THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL SECURITY AND DEFENCE
OTTAWA, Monday, February 3, 2014
The Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence met this day at 4 p.m. to examine and report on Canada’s national security and defence policies, practices, circumstances and capabilities (topics: review of Canadian security intelligence related services; and follow-up to the committee’s report on sovereignty and security in the Arctic); and for the consideration of a draft budget.
Senator Daniel Lang (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: I would like to welcome everyone to the proceedings this evening. I would like to give a warm welcome to our first witness, Mr. Stephen Rigby, National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister, and the person accompanying him, Mr. David Vigneault.
I would like to begin by saying to members that we have a busy agenda ahead of us. From 4:00 to 5:00, we have Mr. Rigby before us, and from there, for those who are viewing us, we have witnesses from the two national intelligence agencies. We will have a short break at seven o'clock, and then we will have representation from the Department of National Defence in respect to Arctic sovereignty and security. So we have a busy agenda going forward.
I would also like to point out for the media here and also for our public viewers that next week we will start a study simultaneously in two areas of responsibility. We have determined that we will report on them at the end of June this year, which is basically four months. One will be a study on ballistic missile defence. The other is regarding the Canada Border Services Agency in respect of the inadmissibility of immigrants coming into the country and the responsibility that agency has, as well as looking at the legislation that is in place and whether we should report changes. We have a busy spring ahead of us.
I would like to begin by saying to Mr. Rigby that I appreciate you being here. I would like to begin by introducing myself. I am Senator Dan Lang from the Yukon. I would like the deputy chair, Senator Dallaire, to introduce himself, and we will go around the table
Senator Dallaire: Roméo Dallaire, and I represent the Gulf.
Senator Mitchell: Grant Mitchell, senator from Alberta.
Senator Day: Joseph Day, Liberal senator from New Brunswick.
Senator Nolin: Pierre Claude Nolin, from the province of Quebec — more specifically the Senate riding of Salaberry, which includes the region of Valleyfield.
Senator Segal: Hugh Segal, Kingston—Frontenac—Leeds, Ontario.
Senator White: Vern White, Ontario.
Senator Wells: David Wells, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Dagenais: Jean Guy Dagenais, a senator from Quebec — the riding of Île-des-Sœurs and Verdun.
The Chair: I also would like to introduce our clerk, Josée Thérien, and to my right, Holly Porteous and Wolfgang Koerner, analysts from the Library of Parliament.
With those opening remarks, I would ask Mr. Rigby for his opening statement.
Stephen Rigby, National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister, Privy Council Office: Mr. Chair and senators, thank you very much for the invitation this afternoon; it is a pleasure to be here. It is the first time in my capacity before this committee as national security adviser.
Today, I am here to discuss the review of Canadian security and intelligence related services, in the context of Canada’s national security and defence policies, practices, circumstances and capabilities.
I am accompanied today by David Vigneault, Assistant Secretary to Cabinet. My colleagues, Michel Coulombe, from CSIS, and John Forster, from CSEC, will speak later on the role of their organizations. It is a pleasure to appear with them today.
Allow me to set the stage by first providing a brief and broad overview of the national security context in Canada and abroad, my role as national security adviser, and the coordination and governance of the Canadian security and intelligence community.
Following my introductory remarks, I will be pleased to answer questions to the extent possible.
Let me begin by emphasizing that "national security" can no longer be considered in any narrow sense of the term in association with specific threats within Canada or even at our borders. To speak of national security today is to address a multitude of issues that are complex, interconnected and in constant evolution. Increasingly, Canada's national security interests are manifest in a broad range of foreign policy and defence imperatives.
Security at home is necessarily connected with the rest of the world, not only in the positions and actions that Canada takes beyond its borders, but in those that other states take vis-à-vis Canada in their bilateral relationships with us and investments in the Canadian economy. Canada's approach to security issues is therefore organized around this broader concept of security, and most of our allies have done likewise.
My colleagues from CSIS and CSEC will undoubtedly provide you with their views on the current threat environment, but let me take a moment to share my perspective.
The terrorist threat in particular has undergone noteworthy changes in recent years. Of note, we have seen a growing number of Canadians travel abroad to take part in terrorist activities — the rise of the so-called "foreign fighter" phenomenon. Likewise, there are real threats to us here in Canada from foreign fighters who return home to become active in radicalizing others susceptible to adopting their views, or from individuals who seek to do harm on Canadian soil. For some, although its leadership has been weakened, al Qaeda nonetheless remains a source of inspiration.
Changes at the geopolitical level have an impact on the threat context that Canada faces. Our security interests vary from region to region and are often multifaceted. The number and the complexity of crises around the world is challenging for Canada and its allies.
In the Asia-Pacific region, economic and security interests are increasingly intertwined for all actors. Regional instability in South Asia creates significant risks. North Korea is a specific state source of regional tension through its unpredictability and possession of weapons of mass destruction.
If we look to the Middle East, we see that regional instability threatens our friends and us. At this time, we are witnesses to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Syria that is only getting worse. Terrorists from other locales are moving in to use the country as a training ground, while refugees spill over into neighbouring countries that have struggled to absorb them, and the threat of regional instability grows.
Closer to home, weak governance and crime threaten Canadian interests in our hemisphere. History shows that any serious humanitarian event, natural disaster or security incident may see calls for Canadian support, especially from our military, police, correctional services and/or for asylum support, given people-to-people ties, global burden-sharing responsibilities and our strong record of ongoing engagement.
Canada's participation in these efforts contributes to bringing about stability and security, and in order to contribute to such international endeavours, we also need to ensure the security of Canadians who represent us in these various roles overseas.
This brings me to my role as National Security Advisor. As principal advisor to the Prime Minister on security, foreign affairs and defence issues, I am tasked with providing the Prime Minister with situational awareness and advice on a broad range of issues.
I also perform a coordinating role with my deputy minister colleagues from a number of departments, including defence, foreign affairs, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the RCMP, Communications Security Establishment and several others.
These national security issues are both strategic and tactical in nature. From a strategic standpoint, my advice would range from issues like the development of legislative changes for the Prime Minister to consider to the evolution of the situation in the Middle East. At the tactical level, I would provide advice on issues like the involvement of Canadians in foreign conflicts or the current situation in the Ukraine.
In my role as coordinator, my function is to manage the coordination of the community response to government direction. This means ensuring that the activities of individual agencies as well as the activities between agencies are coherent with the direction we have been given.
A concrete example of my coordination responsibilities for the security and intelligence community at the moment would be current preparations for the Sochi Olympic Games. The prime responsibility for security of the games rests, of course, with the Russian government. Notwithstanding that, from a Canadian standpoint, I am responsible for bringing all pertinent government departments and agencies together to develop coherent contingency plans and to ensure that the community is postured to support Russian authorities to the best of our ability, if required. These activities are undertaken as a complement to overall security preparations being managed by our Russian hosts.
I would draw your attention to the fact that, in our government, no single executive authority below the Prime Minister manages national security issues, and each minister is accountable for the results of his or her department or agency. It is therefore imperative to have this underlying coordinating role to see that this system runs smoothly.
In addition, my role extends to the international arena where I work closely with counterparts who fulfill the role of national security advisers to other governments. As I have emphasized, Canada's security is inextricably linked to global security, and it is therefore vital to maintain relationships and good communications with international counterparts.
To achieve good results through such broad-based coordination of quite a large community, there needs to be good collaboration and trust. In my judgment, Canadians and their government are well served by the work of the community on security, defence and foreign policy matters.
One of the biggest developments in recent months is obviously the unauthorized disclosures by Edward Snowden. That has put a spotlight on how intelligence agencies work and with whom they partner. By definition, the activities of these agencies have been conducted in secret. That is now being challenged.
The disclosures raised a number of challenges for governments as they grapple with how to respond. We are not alone in this, senators, since most states have a security apparatus and associated intelligence-gathering capabilities.
Like others, we need to take time to consider an appropriate response that is suited to our particular circumstances here in Canada.
The disclosures are also challenging for security and intelligence agencies. These agencies do work that, by its very nature, must remain secret in order for it to be effective. A certain degree of secrecy is required to protect their operations, methods, areas of interest and capabilities if they are to achieve the results expected by government and Canadians. They are not accustomed to addressing the public on their operations and are, in some cases, bound by the Security of Information Act.
At the same time, the government must protect the information and assets that it holds and uses on behalf of Canadians to maximize their security and act in Canadians' national interest. As we saw recently with the case of Jeffrey Delisle, there are individuals who pose an "insider threat" to Canada. It is therefore necessary to take measures to safeguard government information and ensure that threats of this nature are identified as early as possible so they can be contained.
The Snowden disclosures naturally lead to the questioning of the review of intelligence activities. Your committee has been exploring approaches to the question of parliamentary oversight of national security activities. If you compare the review models of our key allies, you will note that each has a different model. It can be helpful to compare approaches in these matters and learn from others, while appreciating the differences in our history and experience.
In December, the committee also discussed how the Security Intelligence Review Committee's mandate was limited to the activities of CSIS. It was noted that in a context when information sharing has become more prevalent there could be a need for broader review functions.
SIRC and the OCSEC are at the centre of this review model. As the primary collectors mandated to gather intelligence, CSIS and CSEC's activities are most closely monitored by independent bodies. Review bodies known for their professionalism and expertise are familiar with the operations and mandates of the organizations whose activities they review. These bodies conduct reviews and issue recommendations. There are mechanisms in place to track ministers' commitments and responses to those recommendations. Review personnel hold security clearances, allowing for full access to classified holdings, facility and staff. I am confident that these review bodies are sufficiently resourced to fulfill their existing mandates.
Review allows us to ensure that there are ongoing efforts to improve operational practices, update policies and address areas of concern. I can assure you that this continuous improvement process is functioning very well.
Canadians are well-served by their security and intelligence agencies, and also by the bodies mandated to review them. I state this with confidence. We have committed resources to providing intelligence services to our government, and we are obtaining good value through these investments.
Of course, we could improve and we will continue to evolve.
Canadians expect government to provide both security and protection of rights and freedoms, and there is it no conflict between these commitments; both speak to strengthening Canada.
Senators, thank you for the opportunity to appear today. I look forward to answering your questions.
The Chair: Thank you for the concise overview of your responsibilities, and also for the country. What you do cannot be understated in respect to the security of Canadians. We appreciate that.
In your closing remarks, you stated that "Canadians expect government to provide both security and protection of rights and freedoms." I would like to refer to that closing statement with respect to one of the questions I have.
There is a question that most Canadians have on their mind at the present time in light of the media reports — which I am sure you have heard — and comments earlier from Justice Mosley. Who would authorize CSEC to tap into airport Wi-Fi if that did occur? Second, when you, as national security adviser, get information and data, do you question where it comes from and the legality of the sources?
Mr. Rigby: To your first question, CSEC operates under legislative authorities that are given to it by the Parliament of Canada. Those authorities from time to time are augmented by ministerial authorizations, which are provided to it by the Minister of National Defence.
I would say in responding to some of the media reports that I am not totally persuaded that CSIS has tapped into airport Wi-Fi. I think the document that has been released clearly indicates that there has been collection of metadata. That is a well-known fact. The collection of metadata by CSEC has been reviewed constantly over the years by the CSEC commissioner and has been deemed to be legal and appropriate. It does not represent a compromise of private communications by Canadians. It is data about data, so it is well within the legal parameters of CSIS's operations.
The short answer to your question is that the sorts of things that CSEC does are authorized by the act under which they operate and by the authorizations that are given to them by their minister.
With regard to the extent to which I would question information that comes from these things, first and foremost, in my role as coordinator for the security and intelligence community, I am not part of any oversight or review mechanism but, yes, I have an obligation in coordinating and working with my colleagues in the community to ensure that their operations, broad brush, are appropriate. In doing that, I work with my deputy minister colleagues and I would obviously pay close attention to the reports of the CSEC commissioner. I meet with the commissioner fairly regularly to discuss his work — and have done so during my entire period in this job — to ensure there are no significant concerns that he is noting that I should take note of, and to the extent that there are, those are brought forward and highlighted in the commissioner's report.
CSEC invariably puts action plans in place to satisfy the issues put forward by the commissioner, and the requirements for the minister to take note of and take account of those in Parliament.
The Chair: I want to follow up in one other area, and that is the question of terrorism. I take the liberty as chair of the committee.
I want to refer to the question of financing for terrorism. I refer to the CSIS annual report that stated no country can become an unwitting exporter of terrorism without suffering damage to its international image and relations, and that Canada’s legal obligation to promote global security needs to be honoured, and that means assuming responsibility for our own. As you are aware, the United States has identified a number of groups — including some with affiliation in Canada — as being unindicted co-conspirators of the funding of terrorism. That must be a concern of yours.
To refresh the memory of committee members on the history we are dealing with, we had two Canadians recently convicted in the United States for supporting terrorism. One is an Ottawa native, Mr. Tahawwur Rana, who was convicted for 14 years last June in his role in a plot to attack a Danish newspaper as well as providing material support for a Pakistan-based terrorist group. Then we also have a Waterloo student, Suresh Sriskandarajah, who was sentenced to two years for supporting the Tamil Tigers.
I know that is a serious question for all intelligence services. When it comes to supporting and financing terrorists and terrorist groups, why are we not seeing more similar arrests, charges and convictions in Canada as opposed to Canadians being arrested in other countries?
Mr. Rigby: From my perspective, terrorist financing and the consequences and issues that arise from the exportation of terrorism abroad is a significant issue in Canada.
I couldn't give you a precise answer on why we are not seeing more arrests, but I can tell you that the issue of how we track terrorist financing, how CSIS, the RCMP and FINTRAC, within the Department of Finance, look at these things is an issue of considerable concern to us.
Obviously, the gathering of evidence, the burden of proof and the ability for us to put cases together that would be pursuable by the Public Prosecution Service is a constant challenge for us. I think the fact that we maybe have not recently seen a couple like the ones that you have mentioned does not speak to the issue that it is not an issue or a priority for us. It is. I think it is just a matter of continuing to work with our allies, gather the information that we can transnationally and make sure that we are gathering the information that will allow us to pursue charges.
Senator Dallaire: Mr. Rigby, you are well aware that this committee has no classified capability to it, so we are caught up in the scenario of having to talk more of processes than actual content, which means that oversight by parliamentarians does not exist, certainly not in the Senate, and I have not seen it in the House of Commons.
With respect to process, we have the cyberwar reality — certainly our allies are considering it that way, without borders, now cyberwar — and continuum and security dimensions of all our departments and structures. In your capacity as a DM adviser, with no statutory strength but working in cooperation, in coordination and maybe even collaboration with the different players, particularly the Minister of Public Safety's gang and also the Minister of National Defence, where is your hammer in ensuring that, in fact, you are able to bring that about?
I know there is collegiality, and I know people can be pretty rough with each other in the public service in doing their duty, but there is another step to it that I believe requires you to be a much higher level of authority in this arena in order to pull this together. Do you not think that would be required in this modern era?
Mr. Rigby: This has been a live debate for a number of years, as you know, and the findings of certain commissions of inquiry have included this debate, Mr. Justice Major's inquiry, in particular.
If you look around the world at national security adviser positions, not only amongst the Five Eyes but also among other allies and friends with whom we work, you will not see a direct line set of authorities granted to these positions. It is not typical; that is not to say it is not debated.
What I can say without reservation, as my role has evolved — and it has evolved in the three and a half years I have been in it, from pure security and intelligence to broader functions for defence and foreign affairs — I have never found difficulty in working with my colleagues. You are absolutely right. It is an extremely collegial, team-like atmosphere that is pursued. As well, I work in the Privy Council Office. I am a senior deputy in the Privy Council, and I am the adviser to the Prime Minister. There is a certain moral suasion that goes with that positioning that, in my humble opinion, I have found more than adequate to achieve cooperation and a cooperative effort with my fellow DMs.
Senator Dallaire: That works well, I suspect, in peacetime. The question is: Are we in peacetime? Under the conditions of the evolving threats, and you have enumerated a number and that is the unclassified side, it seems to me that we are into a different exercise with regard to how we will handle all these capabilities, both internally and internationally, in ensuring that not only the Prime Minister but also the cabinet get that information that is not potentially skewed by one of the ministers or some of the inputs that come there. What is your wartime footing with regard to meeting the requirements for the Prime Minister with regard to national security?
Mr. Rigby: I think you can debate the war on terrorism, that today, whether by dint of terrorism and the cyberwars that we are engaged in, we are on a wartime footing. I have been in this position when Canada made its contribution to the Libya conflict, for example, where I think we were on a wartime footing. My convening authorities, such as they are, my ability to convey the Prime Minister's direction and my ability to ensure that people are working within the confines of cabinet direction, I have never found to be limited.
I have the ability to call deputies together. I have the ability to ensure that direction is being followed closely. Sometimes that is tactical; sometimes that is strategic. But I have not found my ability to convene, gather, discuss and, to a certain extent, direct, ever to be compromised either on a full wartime footing or on the extremely important crises across the array of threats that Canada faces today.
Senator Segal: Thank you, Mr. Rigby, for your presentation and for your clarity.
Speeches I have heard you give elsewhere would lead me to be comforted that you would believe that in our country national security is about protecting democracy from internal and external threats, from subversion and from those who might deploy violence against our democracy and the citizens who live within it.
In a democracy, there should be a relationship, I would argue, and you have underlined it in some respects, between the efforts of our national security services to keep the country safe and the democratic principles that govern how we manage ourselves.
You mentioned in your opening statement that you deal with your colleagues in other countries, and we try to share information in a constructive, collaborative way. Most of our NATO colleagues — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Australia, the Netherlands — have a statutory oversight legislative process where folks in your kind of position are not prevented by the Security of Information Act from telling the whole truth and all the detail to legislators who have statutory status to hear it.
Have any of your colleagues in those countries where they do have that level of statutory oversight indicated to you that that is problematic for them, that it makes their job harder? Would it be your view that having in this country the kind of oversight they have in the U.K., the United States and elsewhere in a Canadian context would make your job harder in the advice that you give to the government and to the Prime Minister?
Mr. Rigby: I have been privileged to be in this job for three and a half years or so. I am getting to the stage now where I am on my second and third national security advisers in some countries; I don't know what that says to job security in these roles. I have had the opportunity to meet with them to talk about this, and I have had the opportunity to meet with chairs of legislative oversight committees from time to time.
The direct answer to your question, Senator Segal, is no. I don't think any of them have ever said those sorts of functions have been an impediment to their work at all.
If you look to the United States and, to a lesser extent, to the United Kingdom, you will see structures that are well evolved. They are mature, and they work within those countries very well.
Do I think such a process would be an impediment to my job? It is a theoretical question. I don't believe so.
I do think that the review mechanisms that we have in Canada are quite strong. I'm not saying they are perfect. I would say only that if Parliament were to consider changes to this, augmentations and perhaps a legislative wing to the review or oversight capacities, you would want to do so in a way that didn't disturb the excellent return that I think Canadians and the government get from SIRC and from the CSEC commissioner.
My work with them, to the extent I do, is always very good. I think that my ability to receive information from them, to have conversations with both the commissioner and the chair of SIRC — excellent model.
I can't tell you that it would be an impediment, but I would say that changes to the system that we have should be viewed with caution.
Senator Segal: SIRC is an organization usually of former politicians, some distinguished people from the community, privy councillors. It's part time.
Mr. Rigby: Yes.
Senator Segal: The chairman is part time, the members of SIRC are part time and the staff is excellent, without question, but relatively small. The CSEC commissioner’s office — he is a distinguished jurist — is also very small.
Your own analysis this afternoon has indicated how broad the national security sweep has to be to do the job properly. We've heard that just the notion of metadata indicates that a tremendous amount of work is being done every day on hundreds of thousands of digital messages for various reasons, such as understanding the sourcing if not the content.
Are you comfortable that the oversight groups, who no doubt relate in good faith and work as intensely as they possibly can to protect Canadians' rights, have the depth and size, in view of how our own apparatuses had to change after 9/11 for good and substantial reason, to actually keep their eyes sufficiently on the work that is being done and keep you informed as the national security adviser of problems and difficulties that may be taking place on a systemic basis?
Mr. Rigby: I've spoken with successive commissioners of CSEC and successive chairs of the Intelligence Review Committee. They are extremely busy, both organizations. CSEC commissioners have told me that they believe they are right sized, and I have no reason to disbelieve them.
I would say in the case of SIRC, a challenge is to make sure that members are replaced on a timely basis so quorum is maintained and the volume of complaints and the work that they do can be sustained.
As to whether or not they might be right sized or a different size, I have to say that I begin to trespass a little into the advice I might give the Prime Minister, and if you forgive me, perhaps I would just stop my answer right there.
Senator Mitchell: I'd like to follow up to some extent on Senator Segal's line of questioning. Clearly, what he's addressing is the danger that in protecting against threats, we go over some line of privacy. The Wi-Fi case in airports would at least raise that spectre. One could argue that the more concentrated the power is, the less oversight there is, the greater the danger that we cross that line.
Prior to 2011, CSEC reported through your position to the minister.
Mr. Rigby: Yes.
Senator Mitchell: Now CSEC reports directly to the minister, raising the spectre of a concentration of power, less oversight.
Why is that, and what are the implications of that, and what does that do to your ability to modify or moderate exactly what a sole minister could decide to do?
Mr. Rigby: That change occurred on my watch, so I was quite familiar with it happening.
The model was that CSEC, a couple of years ago, as you've noted, reported essentially through deputies: one, the Deputy Minister of National Defence for administrative purposes; and, two, the national security adviser for policy purposes. So in that respect, if CSEC was pursuing changes to ministerial authorizations, changes in their activities, et cetera, they would come to the national security adviser to talk about them.
I think, generally speaking, the concern with that model was the national security adviser covering a full range of the waterfront of national security activities, a reasonably busy job most days. I did not feel that that position was appropriately discharging the responsibilities of Deputy Minister of CSEC, and yet it was being asked to sign off, to approve, to be a step in the approval process, not just the check process but the approval process for a wide range of very important activities.
I think the notion was that CSEC needed its own full-standing deputy who would have all of the authorities to put this in place, was fundamentally accountable in the normal way deputies are to a minister, and would be challenged by a minister in that way and not have this bifurcated arrangement whereby policy approvals would be given by somebody who wasn't otherwise responsible for the organization.
I firmly believe that the current model is better. I firmly believe that it discharges better authorities, better clarity, and allows for better accountability at the end of the day.
Senator Mitchell: I certainly respect your opinion on that, but it raises at least the logical possibility that the focus is even more concentrated and there's less of an outside or an objective or a second- or third-party view of what's being done.
More to the point of the power of the minister now, let's take the case of the Wi-Fi metadata in airports. Would it be that when CSEC seeks approval, it only goes that way, that they only come to the minister to seek approval, or could the minister actually initiate CSEC activities — and maybe it's an extreme example — to look at Wi-Fi in airports and consider that kind of an approach?
I'm really trying to get at the exercise of the power. Is it that CSEC only goes to the minister to get approval, or could the minister actually decide on his or her initiative that he or she would like to investigate something or have something undertaken, which is quite a different implication for that sole point of power of the minister?
Mr. Rigby: Senator, I think the situation you're describing is theoretically possible, but it's not something that has occurred in my experience, I don't believe. If I am misspeaking, I will come back to you, but I'm not aware of that happening.
The minister's involvement typically is focused on intelligence priorities that are established by cabinet. Cabinet meets and establishes the priorities. Those are given out individually to the security agencies in government. They are converted into ministerial directives, so they are disaggregated from a broad-brush direction for something, and you can probably guess what one or two of them might be. From there, those directives are then placed into the work plans of the individual organizations, and that is the link that would occur in terms of the minister giving direction to CSEC to pursue something.
It's typically done on an annual basis. CSEC might go to the minister to seek authority clarification for something that has been directed by these priorities. But I don't think on a case-by-case basis ministers would go to CSEC and say "I want you to do this versus that" outside the priority-setting process.
Mr. Forster will have a sharper answer for you on this, but in my experience, that has not been the case.
Senator Wells: I want to go back to the structure in process of your position in that it has no statutory basis, but you appear — well, you have the authority conferred by the fact that you're the Prime Minister's national security adviser. By circumstance, you mentioned that you work with four DMs or heads of agencies, also recognizing, having seen it over the years, that governments love structure and a chain of command.
Given the fact that you have no statutory basis, are we losing your — and I don't want to say "success." Your efficacy in the position is that you have been there for three and a half years and have built up a good rapport with your colleagues. Are we losing something because there's no statutory authority to your position?
You mentioned earlier as well there is perhaps moral suasion on an operational basis because you're next to the Prime Minister on these issues. Are we losing something because there's not that? If you weren't there, would it be run just as effectively?
Mr. Rigby: What's the answer to that one? This question has come up many times, and it's a more than reasonable question. Does my position require actual line authority to direct deputies?
The problem is this: The government, as you well know, senator, operates through ministers. Ministers take direction from cabinet, and then that is given to their deputies to work into operational reality.
It's difficult to imagine how I could take authority, get powers of direction over deputies, when they are themselves taking direction from the government through their ministers. I think that might lead to some confusion.
Is there a compromise on my position absent that authority? As I say, I don't believe so. The situation in the community, the ecosystem that I oversee, is an extremely complex one, but I haven't seen a situation where I had a concern and had to go back to the Prime Minister or to ministers to say, "Something is not being followed through on here." I have never seen that in three and a half years on the job. I think there's always clarity in terms of the government's wishes in these areas; there's good planning, good accountability and good governance within the structure, both from ministers in cabinet and from deputies within deputy minister committees. My honest answer to you, senator, is that it works pretty well.
Senator Wells: I just wanted to say that I am sure there are things that keep you up at night, and I thank you for your work.
Mr. Rigby: I haven't slept in three years.
Senator Wells: I thank you for your work on our behalf.
Mr. Rigby: Thank you very much.
Senator Day: I think I'm beginning to get at least a foggy understanding of how things work. You've answered a number of points I was concerned about.
Without statutory authority, the executive control is through cabinet committee and then through the Prime Minister down to you and this committee that meets. Are priorities established for security issues through a specific cabinet committee? How do you relate to that specific group of individuals?
Mr. Rigby: Cabinet establishes the intelligence priorities for the community, and that is done annually. I prepare those priorities, present them to cabinet, and they are approved accordingly. There are committees of cabinet, particularly the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, which oversees the legislative agenda and some of the operational activities of the community. My staff are secretaries to that committee, and I would work closely with Minister MacKay, who is the chair, and with Minister Nicholson, who is the vice-chair. I have met with them, and I would continue to meet with them frequently.
I have regular meetings with the Prime Minister and I have regular conversations with ministers within the national security community. I have more than regular meetings, as my two friends might attest to when they testify, with the deputy ministers in this community.
The planning processes that we follow, they follow the regular routine of government cabinet planning. The medium- and longer-term planning processes that are followed there, the national security community and the security intelligence community contribute to those, and we discharge the directions of government according to those planning processes.
For my part, I chair a committee on national security and I work with the deputies in this committee to ensure that what the government has directed at any given time is being discharged according to the rhythms that the government expects.
To Senator Dallaire's earlier comment, if we come to a point where there is an international incident, where Canada is involved in an international conflict or contribution of that sort, we will form ad hoc committees to make sure that the operations of the Department of National Defence or our security agencies are making the kinds of contributions required.
I will give you a current-day example, the Sochi Olympics preparation. There are a significant number of departments and agencies involved there. There is a significant requirement for linking up both the operational and political sides of that discussion, and a significant requirement to make sure that Canadians have been advised of the threat level they are facing as they go into Sochi. The work of a coordinated group of deputies there has been extremely close and almost daily.
Senator Day: Two or two and a half years ago, the Communications Security Establishment decided that the structure was not functioning well, and you have explained that to us. From the point of view of executive line direction, you're an adviser to the Prime Minister.
Mr. Rigby: Yes.
Senator Day: What I'd like to do is give you the opportunity to tell us about any other aspects of our intelligence and security structure that perhaps need tweaking. What I'm concerned about is the security and intelligence side getting confused with the industrial development side. We read about that from time to time, and that seems to be part of security and intelligence in some countries.
When you have executive direction from the Prime Minister, is there a concern that we might be going a little broader than security and intelligence?
Mr. Rigby: There's not a concern, but you're touching on a very important emerging issue for the government and I think for governments around the world, and that is economic partnership with non-traditional partners, particularly state-owned economies. The increasing prevalence and interest in these countries and economies acquiring Canadian assets has brought about a new set of imperatives for the security agencies to work with the economic agencies, and that, in and of itself, is a non-traditional partnership.
Increasingly, I find myself at the centre of discussions looking at how significant financial transactions for the Canadian economy might be implicated by security concerns and how we respond to those. How do we mitigate them? What advice does the government take on those sorts of things?
One of the challenges that we are all facing together on this is the requirement to step outside our traditional roles. Sometimes these conversations will be the economic managers promoting the economic side and the security guys worrying about the security side. Increasingly, it is my view that our evolution has to be typified by both sides being concerned about both sides of the equation. I don't see a future where these sorts of economic engagements are not going to occur, so how we develop and evolve the sophistication to review them and to look at sensible, mitigating responses to them is something that we have to do in a hurry.
If I had one thing to highlight, that would be an issue where I think we are working extremely hard to develop new skills and new attitudes toward this sort of thing.
Senator White: Thank you very much to both of you for being here today.
Post-9/11 a number of concerns were raised around sharing of intelligence, in particular in the United States, between agencies and law enforcement. At the time, of course, many agencies would say that others were not prepared from a standards perspective and a security clearance perspective to receive the information.
The Homeland Security Committee in the United States has looked at the same situation after the Boston Marathon explosion. In fact, the suggestion there is that information again was not shared with certain law enforcement officials in relation to FBI work that was being done.
We in Canada have still not moved to a standard by which all 180-plus police agencies and law enforcement actually have to meet to be able to access intelligence that others may have. Some would suggest, as was suggested just after 9/11, that we are in a similar position to the United States in relation to the Boston Marathon explosion in that intelligence may be kept from other agencies primarily because they don't meet a certain standard, one which we've put in place, but we haven't forced those agencies to meet.
Is it time that the Canadian government moves forward on requiring that all police agencies meet certain standards when it comes to security clearances, in particular, so they can actually access the intelligence that others have?
Mr. Rigby: It's an important issue. The Boston bombings, as you say, senator, typified the American problem. They're a much larger infrastructure than we are, with many more agencies and complexities, but I think for some of the problems that were highlighted in the reports coming out of Air India or the Arar matter, there is still work to be done there. I do think that standardization of approaches across law enforcement agencies is an important issue that still requires some work.
Senator White: I agree. I think the RCMP, CSIS and the large agencies in this country have certainly moved the yardsticks further than Denver did yesterday when it comes to level of sharing. I am concerned, though, about the other 165 police agencies that rest out there, and in Correctional Services Canada and others, in ensuring that they actually meet that same standard.
The Chair: Perhaps I could ask a supplementary. To be able to bring these other police agencies into the tent, if you like, so that intelligence can be shared, will that require legislative action by the federal government or the provinces to ensure that that could be done? Do you know?
Mr. Rigby: I don't have a definitive answer on that, senator. I think a lot could be done without legislation; I think a lot could be done with the simple establishment of standards.
Senator Nolin: Gentlemen, thank you for joining us and for accepting our invitation. I would like to go back to Justice Mosley’s decision, and I will have an opportunity to discuss this further with your colleagues from the two agencies later on.
I want to talk about your role as coordinator, which you explained well, given the context of national security, the geopolitical context, and the importance of providing the most appropriate information to the Prime Minister. Since part of your coordination role consists in providing the prime minister with information, I assume that CSIS informs you when it submits to the federal court a request under section 21 to set the breach in motion — a sort of a warrant to tap Canadians’ telephone conversations.
Considering the type of relationship we have with our main allies when it comes to information exchange through the use of those international communications, were you informed, at the time, that this request would be submitted to the federal court in case number 3008? Were you told about that at the time?
Mr. Rigby: At the time that the request was being made?
Senator Nolin: The first mandate. Were you informed?
Mr. Rigby: No, I'm not always informed in real time regarding these issues. I can't say that always occurs. That's not the nature of my role. I'm not in a line order of responsibility or accountability for these things. In any one of these cases, I'm confident that if the Director of CSIS felt it was significant enough he would bring it to my attention. I was briefed on the case to which you are referring. I was brought into the loop on it fairly quickly thereafter.
Senator Nolin: That was probably after Justice Mosley issued an additional release on his decision.
Mr. Rigby: No, I was aware that Justice Mosley was examining the issue. But in terms of how the warrants were pursued and whatnot, I wasn't part of the operational discussions on that.
Senator Nolin: By the way, Justice Mosley is a former colleague of yours, so he knows how it works. When Justice Mosley left last fall, he bluntly said, in black and white, "I was misled by the agency." What was your reaction to that?
Mr. Rigby: Concern, obviously.
Senator Nolin: Concern to what extent?
Mr. Rigby: Concern to gather my colleagues together, talk with our lawyers in the Department of Justice, to look at the circumstances, to look at the rationale for why we proceeded in the way we did, and to satisfy myself that there had been reasonable due diligence in the actions that had been pursued and why. Mr. Justice Mosley has rendered a very clear and somewhat candid judgment in this matter.
Senator Nolin: What do you mean by candid? He's a judge. He made a decision. He's a Federal Court judge.
Mr. Rigby: He made a decision.
Senator Nolin: That's right.
Mr. Rigby: That said, the Attorney General has seen fit to appeal that ruling.
At the end of the day, the issues that Mr. Justice Mosley has ruled on will be the subject of further judicial debate, and obviously at the end of the day we will be governed by the final court decisions in this matter.
Yes, it was a concerning issue, but I am persuaded that the basis for our pursuing this matter further is also valid.
Senator Dagenais: Thank you, gentlemen. My question is for Mr. Rigby.
Have you had a chance to review the Privacy Commissioner's report from last week? Can you elaborate on the areas in national security where you think we can improve transparency and accountability?
Mr. Rigby: I think the Privacy Commissioner has presented Parliament with some interesting ideas. The controls, checks and accountabilities that are currently present for both CSIS and CSEC are reasonably robust. To a certain extent, there's been a lot of public debate about some of the actions of our security agencies as a result of Mr. Snowden's disclosures.
I'm not persuaded at the end of the day that all of them are 100 per cent accurate. I do think the ability of the Privacy Commissioner to look at CSIS and CSEC as they do is in itself a check. To bring forward reports, concerns, et cetera, to Parliament is a reasonable revelation of privacy concerns that exist.
I think that the annual reports tabled by the commissioner, by SIRC, and by the Director of CSIS, for example, all represent opportunities to comment on privacy issues and the checks in place to assure Canadians that they have reasonable privacy protections in place. However, as much as anything, I think the public policy debate that has emerged as a result of some of the disclosures that are going on right now will provide fertile ground for considering whether or not what's there today is adequate and reasonable. I do think that the interim Privacy Commissioner's report contains some interesting ideas that we are aware of and are studying.
Senator Dallaire: I'm going back, if I may, to the era in which we've stumbled into. We seem to continuously be caught off guard by areas going awry and also our own potential vulnerability. We've been talking about the comprehensive approach of government in responding to crises. Who is actually building contingency plans for us to be engaged in things like potential mass atrocities or operations of imploding nations or, in fact, evolving conflicts like Afghanistan or even Yugoslavia? Where do you fit in this contingency planning and bringing about the authority to provide significant advice to the Prime Minister in regard to conflicts and major catastrophes of that nature?
Mr. Rigby: I would suspect that probably more than any other national security adviser before me I have continuing and direct involvement with the Canadian Armed Forces; a continuing discussion with the Chief of the Defence Staff with his senior service heads and with the generals who run his horizontal organizations.
My ability to pinpoint, from a Canadian perspective, hot spots around the world and talk about both current Canadian military engagement there and the potential for further engagement is quite good and getting better. I look at it from a foreign policy geopolitical point of view, and then I think we're able to put a military overlay on that and talk about what are the what-ifs, where might we get involved, where might our overseas development or foreign aid apparatuses have to get involved. I think that debate is richer and more robust than it's been in quite some time.
When you go further afield into more abstract issues such as cyber, I participate in increasing discussions that the government has with the private sector, for example, in terms of how we might be able to respond to a significant cyberattack, not only against a financial institution but a public utility. That is increasingly within the "soft middle" of our threat profiles. Those sorts of discussions are ongoing at all times.
From counterterrorism and counterespionage points of view, I have constant conversations with the heads of our security agencies and the RCMP. We look at how we have responded in the past to terrorist plots on our home soil, what we have learned about those sorts of things, how we could improve the reaction, and how we could improve the way we work with allies, particularly the Americans, because we have very close relations with them on a number of these things.
I don't think it's perfect, but it is evolving and a lot better than it was. Our ability to identify threats, possible scenarios and reactions is likely more involved and robust than it has been in quite some years.
Senator Dallaire: Do you lead it? Are you the leader of that? Who is running this?
I ask because whenever I am looking for a comprehensive approach in government — as an example, after Afghanistan — everyone has gone back to their jobs. They were worn thin on the ground, and there is no true body politic or entity doing that contingency work.
Are you the man responsible for putting all that together and leading it?
Mr. Rigby: I think most days, for my sins, senator, I am, yes.
Senator Dallaire: Finally, I have my target.
Mr. Rigby: I suspect I may be back on the strength of that answer.
The Chair: Colleagues, I would like to thank our witnesses for appearing. Being accountable to Parliament is part of the parliamentary process. We appreciate your candour, and we look forward to another hearing in the future here.
It is important for Canadians to realize the threats they face, the responsibility you have, and also with respect to answering the question of privacy for Canadians. It's a very fine line you walk, and we understand that. We are here to help the best we can.
Thank you very much.
Mr. Rigby: It's been a pleasure to be here.
The Chair: We now have two gentlemen here to make their first appearance at this Senate committee, though I trust not their last. Mr. John Forster was appointed Chief of the Communications Security Establishment Canada effective January 30, 2012. Prior to his appointment as Chief of CSEC, he served as the Associate Deputy Minister of Infrastructure from 2009 to 2012, where he oversaw the design and delivery of many of the government's infrastructure stimulus programs under the government's Economic Action Plan.
Seated next to him is Michel Coulombe, the new Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. He has served with the agency since 1986, and for reasons that will be understood by members of the committee, his publicly available background is limited.
Welcome, Mr. Coulombe. We look forward to hearing from you.
Gentlemen, I understand that you each have an opening statement. We are scheduled until seven o'clock.
Michel Coulombe, Director, Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS): Mr. Chair and honourable senators, good evening. I am pleased to be here today.
Honourable senators, review and accountability were key consideration when CSIS was created in 1984. In fact, the Security Intelligence Review Committee — or SIRC — was created alongside the service, and has been reviewing our activities ever since. Independent review plays a crucial role in the national security landscape because it maintains Canadians’ trust in our activities and gives them confidence that our activities are conducted legally, effectively and appropriately. Indeed, Parliament can be assured that the review of CSIS is comprehensive and effective.
As the committee knows, SIRC's latest annual report was tabled by the minister on October 31. It is a report that touches on a wide range of important issues, including the service's expanded activities abroad in response to the increasing global dimensions of national security threats.
CSIS maintained an effective working relationship with SIRC over the review period, will continue this collaboration in the coming year, and will work to address recommendations, as appropriate, in its commitment to maintaining a culture of organizational improvement.
One of the main issues addressed in SIRC's recent annual report was the collaboration between CSIS and CSEC. As such, I would like to briefly describe for the committee the relationship between the two organizations.
CSIS and CSEC have distinct origins and mandates. We report to different ministers, operate under separate legislative authorities, and have different review bodies.
However, both organizations perform vital functions and lawfully collaborate to fulfill their respective mandates. The National Defense Act and the CSIS Act authorize this collaboration, and without it, CSIS’s investigations would surely suffer.
Our activities occur strictly within the bounds of the law, and CSEC will not act on our behalf unless the appropriate authorities are in place.
I certainly understand that the recent controversy in the United States has caused concerns here in Canada, but I can assure you that CSIS warrants authorized by the Federal Court do not allow the mass surveillance of Canadians and we do not engage in such activities. Our warrants are directed against specific individuals who pose a threat to the security of Canada, a threshold that is clearly articulated in the CSIS Act.
CSIS’s public report was recently tabled. I thought you might be interested in a brief update on the evolving threat environment and some specific remarks on Canadians travelling abroad to engage in terrorist activities — something that has garnered significant attention of late. While the threats I describe will be familiar to you, the complexity of the threat landscape combined with the speed with which it evolves is essential to understanding our work.
More than ever, disparate people and places quickly intertwine to create threats that require an agile and coordinated response from the intelligence community. For example, we have long been concerned with espionage. Our industrial capabilities, rich natural resources and access to key allies make Canada an attractive target for hostile actors. What is new, however, is the sheer breadth of today’s targets and the use of cyber attacks, which are efficient, cost-effective and most importantly, deniable, providing anonymity for their perpetrators.
Canada's economic and strategic interests and assets are also susceptible to the threat of espionage, interference and the transfer of technologies. Corporate acquisitions by foreign entities, particularly when state-owned, can also pose risks, and CSIS provides advice to the government in such cases in accordance with the CSIS Act.
Of course, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction continues to be of concern. We are well versed in the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program, but events in Syria also serve to remind that, even in this modern era, chemical weapons can be used with tragic consequences.
With respect to terrorism, while the leadership of al Qaeda may be greatly diminished, its franchises continue to flourish in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and North Africa. We also suspect threats from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region to continue for some time.
Honourable senators, you have no doubt heard of many examples in the media in recent months of Canadians travelling abroad — often to the places I just mentioned — for terrorist purposes. This phenomenon is worrisome, and Canada has an obligation to prevent such activity where and when possible. Equally concerning for the service is when these individuals decide to return to Canada, potentially posing a more immediate threat to our national security.
Currently, CSIS is aware of over 130 Canadians who are abroad in support of extremist activities, including approximately 30 in Syria alone. Such individuals' activities vary widely, ranging from paramilitary activity, training in weapons and explosives and logistical support, to terrorist fundraising and studying in extremist madrasas. Some never achieve their intent and simply return home. Thus, their depth of experience varies widely, making some individuals much more concerning than others.
The service actively investigates such individuals. However, I must be clear in stating that such investigations are inherently challenging and gaps in our understanding are unavoidable. The number of individuals overseas is in constant flux. Their motivations are difficult to ascertain and their movements across sometimes isolated terrain are difficult to track.
The international operating environment is also challenging, requiring close cooperation with our foreign partners. Many of these theatres are active conflict zones, like Syria, creating risks that must be carefully managed. Such challenges can also make it difficult to gather enough information that might enable government agencies to look at enforcement or administration opportunities.
Honourable senators, this problem is not unique to Canada. Countries around the world and our closest allies are grappling with the same issues and there is no simple solution.
We have made some progress to address this phenomenon with new tools — such as Bill S-7, passed last year, which effectively criminalized travel for terrorist purposes. Similarly, recent efforts to establish a system to collect border exit information would fill a current investigative gap to support lawful investigations of travel for terrorist purposes.
In closing, I might remark that there is one constant in the threats we face today. They do not recognize borders and cannot be mitigated or defeated by one organization or nation alone.
Given the complexity and breadth of the threat environment, security intelligence in the modern world is a co-operative effort that relies on effective collaboration with our partners — whether here in Canada or abroad. It is a task that CSIS’s highly-trained and motivated workforce is dedicated to fulfilling, and I am extremely proud to have recently been chosen to lead these men and women as their director.
With that, Mr. Chair, I will conclude my remarks and welcome questions from the committee.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Coulombe.
Mr. Forster, I understand you have a statement.
John Forster, Chief, Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC): Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and honourable senators, for the invitation to appear today. As some of you may recall, I had the opportunity to appear in front of this committee in the fall of 2012 to discuss how the Communications Security Establishment Canada, CSEC, plays a major role in the defence of Canada from cyber-threats.
Today, I am pleased to come back to answer any new questions this committee may have, particularly in regard to our foreign intelligence mandate, which has been a subject of significant attention following recent unauthorized disclosures of classified materials and subsequent media coverage.
I hope to provide you with an accurate sense of how our work protects Canadians and Canadians' interests, how we protect the privacy of Canadians as we go about our work, and how we are held to account by our own policies and by independent parties such as the CSEC commissioner.
As my colleague mentioned and as was outlined in the CSIS report tabled last week, the threat environment that we face is constantly evolving. Now, more than ever, foreign intelligence is indispensable in discovering threats to our security and prosperity, such as from terrorism or cyberattacks.
CSEC plays an important role in the government's efforts to address these threats. Our mandate flows from the National Defence Act and requires us to provide the government with three key services.
First, we collect foreign signals intelligence that supports government decision making, providing information on the capabilities, activities or intentions of foreign entities, such as states or terrorist groups, as they relate to international affairs, security or defence. The act specifies that these CSEC activities are bound by and must be in accordance with intelligence priorities that are set by the government.
Second, we have a cyberprotection mandate. We provide information technology advice, guidance and services to help secure government systems and networks, and the confidential information they contain.
Third, because we do possess unique capabilities, we provide technical and operational assistance to federal law enforcement and security agencies under their mandates. Here, we act under the legal authority of the requesting agency we are assisting, and we are subject to any limitations of that authority, such as any applicable court warrants.
Over the years CSEC, in partnership with our closest allies, has provided intelligence to protect Canada and Canadians. For example, we have supported Canadian military operations, such as the missions in Afghanistan, and protected our forces against threats. We have uncovered foreign-based extremists' efforts to attract, radicalize and train individuals to carry out attacks in Canada and abroad. We have identified and helped to defend the country against the actions of hostile intelligence agencies. We have contributed to the integrity of Canada's borders and infrastructure by providing early warning about the illicit transfer of people, money and goods. Finally, we have furthered Canada's national interests in the world by providing context about global events and crises and informing the government's foreign policy.
When I last appeared before this committee, we discussed the growing challenges of cyberspace and how nation states, criminals, terrorists and hackers are exploiting the growth of the Internet. There are now more than 100 nations that possess the capability to conduct cyber operations on a persistent basis. Our government systems are probed millions of times a day, and there are thousands of attempts each year to compromise those systems. CSEC monitors and defends against cyber-threats to government networks, and, in this role, CSEC plays an important part in protecting the private information of Canadians.
CSEC also supports the efforts of the government to protect the Canadian economy from cyber threats. For example, CSEC shares cyber threat information and mitigation advice with public safety for further dissemination to the private sector in order to protect the intellectual property of Canadian businesses and Canada’s critical infrastructure.
Foreign signals intelligence is critical to identifying foreign cyber threats, but let me be clear that, while CSEC supports the protection of Canadian businesses from cyber threats, it does not share foreign intelligence with Canadian companies for their commercial advantage.
Canadians count on the government to keep them safe from threats, but at the same time, they also count on us to respect their privacy and execute our responsibilities lawfully. We take both those responsibilities very seriously. Under our foreign intelligence and cyberprotection activities, CSEC does not target Canadians, either at home or abroad, nor do we target anyone in Canada. However, in those instances where we are providing assistance to law enforcement or security agencies such as CSIS, we may be asked to assist in the collection of communications of Canadians. Under the National Defence Act, CSEC is specifically required to protect the privacy of Canadians in the execution of its duties. Lawfulness and privacy are our most important principles.
CSEC adheres to Canadian law, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Privacy Act and the Criminal Code of Canada, as well as the direction we receive from the government and the Minister of National Defence.
However, given the complex nature of cyberspace and telecommunications, CSEC may risk the incidental interception of private communications of Canadians when directing our activities at a foreign target. This risk occurs because we have no way of knowing in advance — let alone can we control — who our foreign targets may communicate with, including persons in Canada.
The National Defence Act recognizes this. Under the law, and solely for the purpose of fulfilling our mandate to obtain foreign intelligence or protect government networks, CSEC must obtain an authorization from the minister for those activities that may risk the incidental interception of a private communication. I do want to underline that under no circumstance can the Minister of National Defence authorize CSEC to direct its intelligence activities towards Canadians. These authorizations are valid for up to one year and are subject to strict conditions, which include measures to protect the privacy of Canadians.
We also have multiple structures within CSEC to ensure compliance. These include executive control and oversight, policy compliance teams in our operational areas, an on-site legal team from the Department of Justice that provides advice, and active ongoing monitoring of our internal processes.
I do want to emphasize that everything that we do is subject to external review by the office of the commissioner, whom you have already met with. He is a fully independent commissioner, and since 1996 a series of retired or supernumerary judges, including a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and other notable Federal Court judges, has regularly reviewed our activities for compliance with the law and made helpful recommendations that improve our programs. The commissioner and his staff of 11, as well as additional expert consultants, are fully cleared. They have full access to all CSEC personnel, all systems, all data and all documents.
Successive reports by the commissioner have included positive findings related to CSEC's measures to protect the privacy of Canadians. The commissioner's most recent report did note that the protection of privacy of Canadians is, in the eyes of CSEC and its employees, a genuine concern and that he found a culture of compliance. Nonetheless, we continue to look for every possible avenue to improve our privacy protections. We have implemented every past recommendation of the commissioner related to privacy and are in the process of implementing those from very recent reviews.
To conclude, in my brief two years as Chief of CSEC, I have been impressed by the dedication to public service shown by the employees of that organization. They are among the best and the brightest the country has to offer, including computer engineers, scientists, researchers, mathematicians and linguists skilled in more than 60 different languages. They chose to work at CSEC because they understand the importance of our role and they want to make a difference. They are committed day in and day out to protecting Canada and Canadians from global threats while complying with the law and protecting the privacy of Canadians.
Again, thank you very much for the opportunity to meet and speak with you today. I look forward to your questions.
The Chair: Thank you, gentlemen.
I would like to begin with two questions. One has to do with the question of the privacy of Canadians. You went on at great length, Mr. Forster, to outline the procedures and the protocols that you follow to ensure that that is adhered to. Yet, at the same time, we have had considerable media reports regarding the surveillance of Canadians, specifically in airports and the Wi-Fi in airports.
Would you tell us what type of data has been collected when that type of operation is undertaken and why Canadians should not be concerned about their privacy?
Mr. Forster: With your indulgence, I thought I might take a couple of minutes to describe the context of that deck. It is a very technical document, and I thought it might be helpful to situate this, and then I will be happy to answer your questions.
The Chair: That is why we appreciate your being here.
Mr. Forster: As I said, remember that our role is to collect information from foreign targets on the global information infrastructure, or the Internet. To do this, we need to understand how millions and millions of communication networks function, how they are constantly changing and how foreign targets are making use of them.
The document released last week refers to a model that we were trying to build of a typical communication pattern around a public Internet access point, in this case, an airport.
The work relied on metadata. Metadata is data about a communication; it is not the contents of a communication. If you think of yourselves as digital photographers, when you are taking a picture, the picture is the content, but what comes with that picture is other bits of data around the date, the time, the focal length, the aperture, the pixels. It is data about it, but it is not the picture.
We rely on is what is called metadata. It's used by computers to route or manage communications over global networks. It doesn't include any content of emails, phone messages, text messages or photos. This was the data we were using in this exercise.
We collect metadata from the global Internet for two reasons. One, we need to be able to understand global networks to know how to find a legitimate foreign target in a sea of billions and billions of bits of communication. Two, we also use it to ensure our intelligence collection is directed at a foreign target. So we use metadata to be able to make sure we're not directing our activities at a Canadian phone number, a Canadian IP address and to avoid targeting Canadian communications.
This exercise involved a snapshot of historical metadata collected from the global Internet. There was no data collected through any monitoring of the operations of any airport. It's part of our normal global collection. This was not an operational surveillance program. That was not the result or the purpose of the exercise. We weren't targeting or trying to find anyone or monitoring individuals' movements in real time.
The purpose of it was to build an analytical model of typical patterns of network activity around a public-access node like an airport. That's what you see in the document: patterns, dots and so on.
The goal, the end result of this work, was to build a mathematical, analytical model. The end result was formulas, algorithms, software.
Why did we do this? How does this help us?
We need to develop models that can help us find legitimate foreign targets, terrorists, hostage-takers, foreign intelligence agents. For example, we might have a hostage-taking in a foreign city. Possibly Canadians are involved or citizens of our closest allies. Our challenge is how do we help find those foreign targets in a sea of billions and billions of communications traversing the globe through global communication networks?
This kind of a model helps us in two ways: One, it helps us narrow down our search in a foreign, remote region or large city. It helps us filter out millions and millions of possibilities down to a smaller few. Second, we know terrorists or hostage-takers will often use public spaces like an airport or a cafe to access the Internet, because they're trying to hide in plain sight. So this model, which helped to identify typical patterns, helps us to identify where that person may be contacting the Internet and where he may be coming from — a cafe, a hotel, an airport.
The model is very helpful. It can save time and work during an incident where time is critical. It increases our chances of success.
I'm aware of at least two cases in the past 12 months where this model has been and is being used to help identify legitimate foreign targets.
The collection of this metadata, data about a communication, which was used to analyze global networks, was authorized under the National Defence Act. This work was conducted under conditions set out in ministerial directives. The first ministerial directive on metadata, which included this kind of network analysis, was signed in 2005. A new ministerial directive was submitted by my predecessor and signed by the minister in 2011, and this work was done under the conditions set out in those directives.
I want to stress no Canadians' private communications were targeted, collected or used. We didn't use this data to identify any individual Canadian or person in Canada. As with all of our activities, our measures must be put in place to protect the privacy of Canadians when we're handling this kind of information.
I also would like to state that our collection and use of metadata, including for network analysis, has been reviewed by successive commissioners five times since 2003, the most recent in 2011, and found to be lawful. The commissioner has approved in 2012 a new review of metadata. It's the kind of topic that he regularly looks at, so there's a new review under way. We welcome that and are happy to cooperate with him that in that review.
I hope that gives you a bit of a picture of what this deck is trying to describe.
The Chair: It's certainly a lesson, but I would like to be clear just exactly what this does technically.
You are doing surveillance with computers in designated airports. I'm assuming it's not in all airports; is that correct? An airport is designated or is it all airports?
Mr. Forster: I don't do surveillance inside any airport in Canada. I will collect information off the global Internet. I will then use that to try and identify and find a foreign target in a foreign country.
This model shows me what the communication patterns, typical ones, look like around an airport, a hotel or a cafe. When I am pursuing a legitimate target in a foreign country, I can use this model to quickly identify where that person may be connecting to the Internet from, because I'm interested in finding the location of that person.
The Chair: I'm sure some of my colleagues will follow up, but I have one other question in one other area. This would be to Mr. Coulombe.
I want to refer to your report of 2012-2013 that you tabled. I read it very carefully, and I thought it was a very clear document and a document all Canadians should read, quite frankly, especially enumerating all the threats we face. I want to say that I found an omission in that report as opposed to your other reports that have been tabled over the last number of years. I refer to the radical Islamic threat we face here in the world. I notice in the reports of 2008, 2009 and even in 2010 the Islamist threat is referred to numerous times, and also "jihad" and its derivations.
What I found interesting in this report is it's not referred to at all in respect to the writing of the report. Am I to assume that the militant Islamic jihadist threat is no longer what it was a few years ago? My question then leads me to if it is still a threat, why are we not still clearly identifying it?
Mr. Coulombe: It is definitely still a threat, but we prefer to talk about terrorism inspired by al Qaeda ideology. That's what we're talking about.
If you look across North Africa, if you look at what's happening in Yemen, in Libya, in Syria, in Lebanon — the conflict in Syria is bleeding in Lebanon — Afghanistan, Pakistan, it is all al Qaeda-inspired ideology that is driving that terrorism, and that's what we've tried to communicate through our most recent public report.
The Chair: I'm not going to belabour this, but it is an area that I would like to have a follow-up on if you could. I would ask if you would table for us the list of individuals and organizations with whom your organization has been relying on for outreach, and I would also like to see the summary of the advice given as it relates to identifying religions or religious ideology.
I will now call on Senator Dallaire.
Senator Dallaire: I would like to welcome Mr. Coulombe. An organization like yours often has the role of gathering information, but not necessarily of disseminating it, since you want to protect your sources, and it may be difficult to share information with various entities such as police forces, including the RCMP.
I would like to draw your attention to Canadian diasporas, which are growing in size and number. They are from countries currently going through a crisis, and their members have not necessarily broken ties with their past and their family.
More specifically, I am talking about those diasporas’ young members who are increasingly organizing into groups and gangs. I am talking about entities that are fostering division locally and causing problems for the police, but that also enable recruitment. Do you need to obtain special authorization if you are focusing on a diaspora in a location where the targets are people under the age of 18? Is that activity something that deviates from the norm in your operations?
Mr. Coulombe: I will split the question into two parts. On the one hand, we have the diasporas, and on the other hand, we have individuals under the age of 18.
We have internal policies for situations where the target or the subject of investigation is under the age of 18. In such cases, authorization must be obtained at a higher level. That provision is part of the service’s operational policies.
However, we do not target diasporas. The service’s mandate is clear. We investigate and target individuals involved in activities that constitute a threat. That is how we decide whether to investigate an individual or not. We do not look at situations in a context of community diaspora, but rather target activities as such. We could be talking about organizations or individuals. We have to decide whether the case meets the threshold established in the CSIS Act and whether those individuals are involved in activities that constitute a threat to Canadian security. The threats are well described in section 2 of the CSIS Act.
Senator Dallaire: It can target a diaspora because the small group is part of it. Thank you for your answer, Mr. Coulombe.
Mr. Forster, you ran this exercise at Pearson. To me, if I look at it as a soldier, it's a peacetime exercise to see if your doctrine and tactics are working; you're acquiring information on improving a weapon that you need to do your job. Why didn't you use LaGuardia?
Mr. Forster: Well, it's not an operation; it’s the construction of a model. We used a historical data set of about two weeks of metadata, which again is not the content of communications. We used information where we had reasonably good context and understanding, so that when we're building a model, we know what that looks like, the ground conditions, and so on. It helps us build a more robust model. When we're using that model in a foreign country where we may know very little about the conditions, at least we have been able to validate the model properly and it's more robust.
It wasn't an operation at Pearson. It was a piece of analysis and the development of a model done at CSE in Ottawa using a data set that we had collected, as authorized under the law, from the global Internet.
Senator Dallaire: Right. You are improving your capabilities, and you're using that to do it.
Mr. Forster: Yes, sir.
Senator Dallaire: Again, I'm asking why you used that one. Because you have a responsibility overseas, why not use one that might be more complex and more difficult? If not an American one, why not one from what used to be the Eastern bloc or another foreign country? It would seem to me that there will be even more complexities in trying to build a model from that.
Mr. Forster: As I said, we had a good understanding of the local conditions in order to validate it, so that was the reason.
Senator Segal: I want to thank both agency heads for making the time to be available with us today.
Mr. Forster, whatever it was that was gathered in that model process relative to Wi-Fi transmission modes, I take it that it's fair to assume that the actual data in that model has now been discarded and will not be used or perused or in any way searched. The nature of the data, while it gives you some modelling and design opportunities of great value in the future, will also give indication about which digital identities were present, when, how they might have been on the system, and with whom they might have been communicating, all of which could be as serious for a particular individual as the monitoring of a telephone call with a court order. My assumption is that the appropriate measures will be taken in that respect.
I'm reminded of the famous negotiations between President Reagan and Chairman Gorbachev in Reykjavik. When the agreement was reached, an historic and important agreement, some folks in the United States were critical of President Reagan for reaching an agreement with Gorbachev. His response was — and it's a response we heard from the American president and Secretary of State in the last couple of weeks with respect to Iran — "Trust but verify."
From the point of view of the Canadian citizen who doesn't begin with any lack of trust — quite the contrary; I think he or she has a high regard for the important work that you and your colleagues do — how do we verify that what you believe to be the case, and what you have shared with us in a straightforward way — perhaps in some context, you might be unwittingly misinformed by someone — is actually the case? How do we, in this democracy, verify that, in your judgment?
Mr. Forster: On your first question, the ministerial directive we have around metadata includes provisions about how we store and safeguard it. It has a retention period. After a maximum amount of time, that data, if it hasn't already been discarded, is discarded.
Senator Segal: That would be a secret directive?
Mr. Forster: Yes. The first one, as I said, was signed in 2005, and a new one was done and developed and signed in 2011.
In terms of your question about verification, I think it's fundamentally important. We recognize and understand the sensitive nature of the kind of work we do. We know that, for good reason, some of that work needs to be done in a classified, secret way. I think you can have faith and trust in a number of mechanisms that are in place to ensure that we are being lawful and following that.
I think the commissioner, as Mr. Rigby noted, has good oversight. His office has top-secret clearances. They decide what they want to look at. They have full access to any member of my staff, any piece of data, any system and any document. They decide what it is they want to review and study, and they provide a classified report directly to the Minister of National Defence, usually with recommendations. As chief, I have to respond to those recommendations, and back through him.
The commissioner also provides an unclassified version to Parliament, but I think it is a very robust, rigorous review that is done, and he has full access to everything we have. If he finds that we have acted unlawfully, he is required, by law, not just to notify the Minister of National Defence but also to notify the Attorney General to take follow-up actions.
Senator Segal: Could I ask Mr. Coulombe whether, in terms of the dynamic with SIRC, he might want to share his perspective on the similar issue of "trust plus verify"?
Mr. Coulombe: As my colleague mentioned, it is extremely important, and I've said it in my opening remarks. We can only do our job if we have the confidence of Canadians. It is extremely important, and we know this.
This July, the service will have 30 years, and SIRC will have 30 years; it was created at the same time. Obviously, the relationship has evolved. I've been involved directly for over 27 years. I've always said, and I truly believe, that the service today is a better service because of SIRC, because of the recommendations that SIRC has made throughout those 30 years.
As John just explained, SIRC has access to everything except cabinet confidences. Otherwise, they have access to all the documents and to all of our people. They have access to our people overseas. They have access to everything.
Not only are we reviewed by SIRC, but there's also the Federal Court, which will look at the judicial approval of our warrants. We're also not exempted from the Privacy Commissioner, official languages, or the Auditor General. We're no different than any other, except that we have SIRC in addition.
Senator Segal: During his time, the former CSEC commissioner, Robert Décary, was quoted as saying he was unable to reach a definitive conclusion about the agency's compliance or non-compliance with the law for various foreign signals intelligence activities because he didn't have sufficient resources, and for all he knows they may have been directed at Canadians, contrary to the law. To be fair, he said that after he finished his time of service.
Other democracies have another way of dealing with this. They don't have these systems. They have statutory oversight, where you are free to share information, which would otherwise be governed by a secrecy of information act, with legislators who themselves have been given the statutory capacity to hear that information.
I understand it's not within your purview to design legislative oversight; that's for others to decide. Do you think the work you do, with a view to the various points of accountability you have already enumerated so helpfully, would be in any serious way diminished, diluted or otherwise "hypothecated" at the expense of national security if we were to have a similar structure to the British, the French, the Germans, the Italians, the Belgians, the Dutch, et cetera?
Mr. Coulombe: I will start by saying I believe the review mechanism for CSIS is robust and thorough. If you're talking about a broader mechanism across the community, as you mentioned, this is really a public policy debate, and it's up to Parliament and government to debate and consider that.
However, I do agree with Mr. Rigby when he said he didn't believe it would impede our work. I will repeat the same cautionary note that Mr. Rigby stated in terms of, for example, duplication of efforts. We would have to make sure that there would be synchronization and lack of duplication. But, again, it is a public policy discussion and it's not really in my purview.
Senator Mitchell: You said it would not impede your work. Would it not actually enhance your work to the extent that — and you made the point very powerfully — if you don't have the trust of Canadians, you can't do your job? In the absence of any mechanism that's outside of the process now, even the commissioner has some independence, but still within the bureaucracy to an extent that could be seen to be, and SIRC similarly. It's interesting there are different processes. Which one works better? Why don't you have the better of the two?
Having said that, would it not enhance your job by enhancing trust, but also by giving an outside policy review as well on policy input? Right now none of those bodies do policy. You do policy, the minister does policy, the cabinet does policy, but no one else has any policy insight on other perspectives.
Mr. Forster: We're the agencies being reviewed. However and whatever Parliament and the government decide they need to put in place, we will totally work with whatever review bodies and oversight mechanisms need to be there.
One of our great challenges, particularly in my organization, is it's been a well-hidden organization for tens and tens of years. One of the challenges I have as chief of that organization is for us to be far more transparent and open as far as we can be within the confines of national security about what we do. We think that's important as another way of ensuring public trust and confidence in the work we're doing.
As the reviewing agency, it's really a policy debate for government and Parliament to decide. I know both Michel and I and our agencies would work fully and cooperatively and openly with whatever bodies or mechanisms Parliament and the government see fit to put in place.
Mr. Coulombe: The only thing I would add is the importance of Canadians to understand our mandate, what we do, how we do it and what is the threat environment out there.
Mr. Chair, you've mentioned our public report and actually it's the twenty-first edition of that report. You might be interested in knowing there is no legislative requirement to produce that report. It was a decision made by the service in order, again, for Canadians to better understand what we do, how we do it and the threat environment.
We also talk in the report about, for example, our academic outreach program. Again, that's to engage in a dialogue outside of CSIS to discuss those important issues. We're quite aware of the importance of this communication. We are a member of the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security, for example. We are involved at a number of levels in trying to be as open as we can be in terms of what we do.
Senator Mitchell: I will go back to the Wi-Fi airport issue. I will say that you certainly have made an effort to be open and it's clear in your presentation on that.
Again, Mr. Forster, it's your relationship with the minister, a minister who really has huge power in this process. Would you have asked for permission from the minister to authorize this particular project, or is it more generally assumed under the protocols document that you've mentioned?
Once authorized, whether this one was or not or something like it, does the minister follow up? Is there a report and record of the decision? Is there a report on following up on what was done and how it was done and what the effect was on the minister? Does the minister have to justify that decision to anyone in particular, or is the minister freelancing it?
Mr. Forster: I can state that the Minister of National Defence did not approve this particular project. What the minister approves, for example, through the ministerial directive on metadata, are directions to me. He can't confer some new authorities on me that aren't in my act, but what he can do is confer upon me requirements, constraints and expectations he has in using, collecting and analyzing metadata; how I'm to protect privacy, how I'm to store and manage. That's what the ministerial directive does.
When we're approving a project, which in this case was the analytical building of a model, it's using data that was collected under our statute and we have to use it in accordance with that.
In terms of collection, the minister also would sign what we call ministerial authorization, which is any class of activities or collection methods we have that run the risk of interception of a Canadian communication. If I have a target in a foreign country and I'm targeting that person and monitoring their communications, if they have a call back to someone in Canada, that's an incidental interception of a private communication in the Criminal Code and the minister has to authorize those activities. However, in this case he wasn't authorizing the analytical model building project that was done. It was done under the frameworks and the policies that he puts in place.
In terms of follow-up and approvals, many of those directives or authorities also require me to report back to him on an annual basis. For example, if I have incidentally collected private communications, I have to report to him on how many and how they were used, et cetera. There is a reporting requirement, and I submit that and I meet with him to go through that.
Senator Wells: Thank you, Mr. Coulombe and Mr. Forster for your presentations and your answers to the questions thus far.
I want to jump tracks and go to Mr. Coulombe. In your presentation, you mentioned corporate acquisitions by foreign entities. I had a question regarding that. Could you give us any more detail about the types of threats posed by state-owned enterprises? With respect to CSEC, do you have a role in responding to the threat and, of course, advising the government?
Mr. Coulombe: We have to go back to the CSIS Act. Everything we do is in accordance with the CSIS Act.
One definition you will find in the CSIS Act is around foreign interference, which is "clandestine or deceptive" activities detrimental to the interests of Canada. These include foreign acquisition and meddling in different communities in Canada. If it is "clandestine" or "deceptive" and it is against the interests of Canada, then it falls within the definition of threats to the security of Canada. That is when the service would be involved.
Senator Wells: If a state-owned enterprise outside of Canada had an interest in a Canadian corporation for acquisition, CSIS would not have a role there?
Mr. Coulombe: We would have a role —
Senator Wells: Because that would not be clandestine.
Mr. Coulombe: We would have a role if some of the activities were clandestine or deceptive. It is not automatic that we would have a role, but if there is enough ground to suspect that there is a threat as defined by the act, then we would have a role.
Under the Investment Canada Act, a national security review could be launched and then the service — again, our role is to collect and then advise government. In that context of foreign investment, we would do the same thing: We would collect and then advise government if, at the start, there are enough grounds to suspect that there is a threat.
Mr. Forster: In our act, we are bound to collect intelligence according to the priorities of the Government of Canada. Mr. Rigby outlined that cabinet process and how that gets passed to me in a directive from the minister. I do not make up or decide the priorities for which my agency collects intelligence; those are given to me by the government, through the minister.
We will collect intelligence in a situation like that. If it has been identified as a priority for the government, then we will go and collect information that may assist the government to that effect.
As Michel said in terms of a security review being launched, we may or may not participate in a security review of an application under the Investment Canada Act, depending on what it is and whether we have anything to contribute to that discussion.
Senator Day: I want to join my colleagues in thanking each of you for being here and for clarifying your roles in this rather complex area of intelligence and security.
I will start with Michel Coulombe. My understanding is that SIRC's most recent report has recommended we take a look at potential and developing threats in the Canadian North. How have you reacted to that recommendation? Do you have the funds to deal with this new dimension? What type of threats are we talking about?
Mr. Coulombe: I will go back to the intelligence priority. If it fits within the intelligence priority as defined by cabinet, it will be sent to us through our minister and then translated into an intelligence requirement that is sent to our regional offices.
The Arctic is no different than any other type of investigation in terrorism. We would devote resources and do what we need to do when there is enough ground to suspect that there is a threat, though in this case, specifically regarding the Arctic.
In terms of what kind of threat, it goes back to foreign interference and possibly espionage in terms of the Arctic itself.
Senator Day: The final piece of that first question was: Do you have the resources now to do that?
Mr. Coulombe: Yes, we do.
Senator Day: Mr. Forster, I just don't know that you can draw this line — maybe you can. I am thinking in terms of the relationship between economic and industrial intelligence, and security intelligence. You make the point that CSEC does not share foreign intelligence with Canadian companies for their commercial advantage. If you have determined that it is to their commercial disadvantage that some foreign entity has acquired certain technology that will hurt them, surely it's pretty close collateral information that you might be sharing with them that could become a commercial advantage to them. How do you draw that line?
Mr. Forster: Our interactions with private business are largely in the context of cyber-threats. You have numerous foreign state and other cyber-threats out there, seeking to break into the systems of corporations and others to steal technology, research and intellectual property.
There were reports of us meeting with industry to give them commercial intelligence; that is not what we do. We, along with the service and Public Safety, meet with them when we can help them, to tell them about threats to their information systems, intellectual property, research and technology.
In terms of foreign intelligence outside of the cyberworld, we collect that to give to government departments according to the priorities set by cabinet. We provide that to departments in the form of reports, and that is where our intelligence goes.
We would not meet with a company, as I said earlier, to share any intelligence we have about an upcoming bid or an upcoming tender. We don't collect that information; that is not what we do. Again, we collect according to the priorities of the government.
Senator Day: You are talking about systems here. As part of your investigation, you might find that some intellectual property has been compromised. Surely you would tell —
Mr. Forster: From a cyberattack point of view.
Senator Day: — an entity what intellectual property has been compromised, would you not?
Mr. Forster: We will meet with them and through Public Safety, which has the lead responsibility in dealing with the private sector, advise them on cyber-threats and attacks. They probably know better than us what intellectual property may have been compromised in their system. We can help them understand the threats that are there against their systems and occasionally help them mitigate the damage from them.
Senator Dagenais: My question is for Mr. Coulombe. We all know that terrorism is a threat that is spreading internationally. In your report, you say that your warrants target individuals who pose a threat to the security of Canada. What premises establish the warrants for monitoring a specific individual?
Mr. Coulombe: The criteria involved in submitting an application for warrant to the federal court are laid out in section 21 of the CSIS Act. The first criterion consists in there being sufficient grounds to suspect that an individual’s activities constitute a threat.
If that criterion is satisfied and an individual is under investigation, the second question to ask is the following: are there any other ways to obtain information we need to fulfil our mandate besides warrants?
So when we appear before a judge, we have to show that we have tried all other investigative procedures and that they, for whatever reason, did not allow us to obtain all the information we needed to be able to notify the government of the threat.
Senator White: I have one supplemental question from an earlier question and one question I had prepared earlier.
In relation to the metadata, I understand it is tagged to help you develop a system. If it's not being kept for the intelligence found within the data itself, why would you keep it any longer than the development of the system? Why would you worry about the Privacy Act and the information being maintained for a certain period of time if it is only to be used for the development of a system in the first place?
Mr. Forster: We collect metadata on the Internet largely to help us understand global networks. If we are looking for a foreign target, we need to have a road map to know where best to target our efforts to collect intelligence against a particular priority.
In terms of the exercise of building this model, the data wouldn't be retained any longer than we needed it for that exercise, and the ministerial directive has a firm end-of-retention date. We use metadata to characterize and understand global networks and also to help us find the targets we're looking for. We may be looking for a single target in a sea of billions and billions of communications on the global Internet. Metadata can help us understand those networks, where communications may be routed, how we are using it. They help us find what we are looking for faster and help to avoid targeting Canadians in that process.
Senator White: Many people raised a question around Snowden, the access to information and his distribution. Many are concerned about what is in the information. My concern is a little different. I am concerned about what he accessed and what he released more from the integrity of the organization than from the public perspective.
I have asked question previously of the oversight bodies surrounding the integrity testing that must be done on employees. In the hiring process, I am quite familiar with the manner in which people are hired. But what kind of comfort can you give us that the integrity testing, which must be continuous within your organization, would ensure that those types of individuals or contractors would not be allowed to flourish as Mr. Snowden has?
Mr. Forster: I will start and then turn it over to Michel.
You always use these unfortunate incidents to learn from and look at how you can improve the security inside your organizations. I am never going to be able to give you a 100 per cent guarantee that it can't happen in our organization, but we look at technology. There are a lot of tools and changes we can use with technology in terms of auditing forensics, et cetera; these are being done.
When we hire people, we put them through a fairly rigorous process before they come into the organization. Not only do they need a top secret clearance, but to work in our organization you also have to undergo a psychological assessment, take a polygraph test, et cetera.
It is not enough to bring them in that way. You need mechanisms and processes in place with your employees throughout to make sure you have good security measures. Part of that is good management and managers involved and close to their employees. We have assistance programs that employees can go to within our organization to seek counselling or advice. If they feel they have an allegation of wrongdoing, we have several options for them that don't include me.
We have an ethics officer that they can approach, and that is one of the roles of the commissioner. They can go to the commissioner and say, "I believe I have an allegation of wrongdoing." There are legitimate avenues to express concern or alert people to potential wrongdoing.
Technology, people, training and those kinds of mechanisms are what we put in place.
Mr. Coulombe: There is not much more to add.
Senator White: I did not hear the words "integrity testing," so I will ask again: Is that used? Most police agencies now use integrity testing to ensure that employees, police officers who are in such positions, are caught before they find themselves in a position of jeopardizing an organization or investigation. Would the same be in place?
Mr. Coulombe: Yes, there is. It is just the use of a different terminology. We talk about "reliability," but under the government security policy, to obtain a clearance, be it secret or top secret, there are two aspects: loyalty and reliability. When you are talking integrity, you are talking about the reliability of it.
Senator White: But Snowden passed many tests. I am talking about post-employment, the seven-year itch when the employee is no longer happy. Is there something to ensure that person does not become Snowden?
Mr. Coulombe: Yes. In the service, every five years people have to go through the process again to keep their security clearance. That includes everybody, even me.
Senator Nolin: Mr. Coulombe, I would first like to go back to Justice Mosley’s decision. But before I get to the crux of this decision — although I will not discuss the decision itself, since you have appealed it — I will rather discuss the elements surrounding it.
You started giving Senator Dagenais the answer. When you use section 21 before the Federal Court, can you tell us how it works when you ask your colleague to intercept the communications of a Canadian and why? How does it all work and why does it work that way?
Mr. Coulombe: Why does it work that way? We ask CSEC to become our agent, to intercept the communications for us, because we do not have the technological capacity to do that. We could develop it, but would it be a judicious use of taxpayers’ money to spend millions of dollars on technology that our colleagues already have and are legally authorized to use?
Senator Nolin: They become your designated agent? So you ask their permission to use them for the interception. Okay, that is the how. But what about the why? You have tried everything and nothing has worked to your satisfaction, so you really need to intercept the communications. And at that point, you need a warrant issued by a judge.
Mr. Coulombe: A warrant from a judge, yes.
Senator Nolin: Okay. And does that happen often?
Mr. Coulombe: I could not give you any figures off the top of my head.
Senator Nolin: When I say "often"….
Mr. Coulombe: If I look at the number of targets, of individuals under investigation in relation to the number of warrants we have, it is not all that many.
Senator Nolin: You can see what I am getting at. When Mr. Rigby said they were surprised, I assumed it was more than that, because, his boss, the Prime Minister, probably asked him what all the madness was about and why he had not been told what was going on. First, I want to know what you said when Mr. Rigby called you and asked what had happened and why he had not been told about it?
The second thing I want to know is what you did internally to keep it from ever happening again.
Mr. Coulombe: First, you have to understand that, in 2009, the first time that….
Senator Nolin: You were not there. I know it was your predecessor.
Mr. Coulombe: I was not going to use that as an argument.
Senator Nolin: I was not going to accept that as an argument, just so we understand one another.
Mr. Coulombe: Again, we have to go back to section 21 and ask what the act requires in order to obtain the warrants. The NSA has nothing to do with this; it is the Minister of Public Safety — and once again, this is set out in the act — who has to approve the application for the warrant, even before the application is made to a judge. So it really goes through the department, the minister himself. The NSC is not advised every time an application for a warrant is made to the court.
Senator Nolin: In this case, I assume — I have no doubt — that he called you, and if not you, your predecessor at least. But last November, it was you. At any rate, had it been me, I would have called you. I would have asked what the situation was all about. What did you do after that?
Mr. Coulombe: As Mr. Rigby said, we explained the how and why of it all. And we had meetings, Mr. Rigby, myself, the Minister of Justice and the other stakeholders, to discuss the file. And this is where I have to tread extremely lightly, because an appeal was filed and is now before the court of appeal; these are complex issues and I would really not want to….
Senator Nolin: I do not want to get into the details of the decision regarding section 30.08, but I do want to know what happened afterwards. Did you change your internal procedures?
Mr. Coulombe: In response to the Mosley decision, yes. We changed them because throughout the service’s 30-year history, we have always complied with the decisions of the court. And we did the same in this case, pending the outcome of the appeal.
Senator Nolin: Mr. Forster, on the question of metadata, you explained to us all the steps you are taking to ensure that Canadians are not being intercepted in your efforts. I must conclude that other countries could intercept Canadian citizens.
Mr. Forster: Canadians in other countries?
Senator Nolin: Yes, organizations similar to yours.
Mr. Forster: Not just countries, but also criminals, activists, terrorists — all are using the Internet to collect and provide information.
Senator Nolin: When you are collecting metadata in an airport —
Mr. Forster: Not in an airport.
Senator Nolin: — or somewhere, you are eliminating Canadians. I presume with the IP address you can do that.
Mr. Forster: We will keep the metadata because as communications go over networks, foreign communications and Canadian are all mixed up together. If I sent you an email today, it gets broken up. Part of my email may get routed all over the world before it arrives, even though we are in the same room together. When you collect metadata, it is impossible. It is all intermixed together, and good citizens and terrorists all are using the same networks. So when we collect it, we have no way of knowing at that point of disaggregating it until we look at it, and then we use it. If it is Canadian, then we have to make sure we protect the privacy of that information and how we use it. We have conditions from the minister about how we do that.
Senator Nolin: So it means that you are rejecting, after all that process, the Canadian-labelled interception?
Mr. Forster: No. What we use that for, if we are looking for a target, the metadata can help us tell that a target we may be going after is a foreign target versus a Canadian IP address or number, which we don't target under our legislation. Before we collect the content of a communication, we are using metadata as a way to accurately target our collection efforts, both on a legitimate target and to make sure we are not targeting them.
Senator Nolin: So your American targets can do the reverse and look at Canadians and reject Americans?
Mr. Forster: Well, we have a policy in terms of collecting communications amongst the Five Eyes that we don't target each other's citizens, which is the agreement between the Five Eyes. But as you are collecting metadata on the Internet, remember, the Internet has no boundaries, so it may very well include metadata from different countries, different locations. But when we collect it and have Canadian data, then we have to protect the privacy of it.
The Chair: May I redirect a question, if I could, colleagues, in respect to Senator White with respect to employees and the question of the screening of employees to ensure that they are adhering to all the protocols required by both your organizations?
I refer to contract employees. Do you have a number of contract employees? If so, are they substantial?
Second, what tests are taken in respect to their screening prior to coming into work with your organizations, if that is the case?
Mr. Forster: In terms of contractors, the number of contractors varies, depending on the operations we are running. They do have to have a top-secret clearance before they can come to work at CSEC, and to get that and come into the organization, they need to go through the same process as a new employee would coming in.
After the disclosures, we certainly launched a review of our contracting situation, making sure we have only the people we need, what access they have and making sure their clearances and so on are up to date and accurate. We are going through that process now.
Senator Dagenais: I would like to pick up on Senator White’s question on the reliability testing of employees. Some of Canada’s large police organizations are considering using polygraph testing in specific circumstances to verify the reliability of employees. Have you thought about that option, that is, conducting polygraph testing at regular intervals to verify employee reliability?
Mr. Coulombe: As I mentioned, CSIS has been administering polygraph tests as part of the hiring and security clearance process for a number of years now.
Senator Dagenais: Do you administer them regularly or intermittently? Some police forces are looking into whether they should use them to test employees every five years.
Mr. Coulombe: Yes, we use them regularly and also when a specific case warrants their use. Keep in mind, however, that polygraph testing is not a magic bullet; it is one of many tools used in decision making.
Senator Dagenais: So it does influence other police forces. Thank you very much.
Senator Dallaire: Bill S-7 is quite a significant tool, but one that flows from the school of prevention. Intelligence-based law enforcement comes under the scope of prevention. You operate in an awfully complex environment where the act has not been committed and the information needs to be passed on to the people concerned.
Does this bill give you more teeth when responding to potentially subversive entities or was it simply an area that had not been sufficiently explored?
Mr. Coulombe: To be frank, as far as the impact on CSIS is concerned, Bill S-7 has not really changed what we do or how we do it, because it is really a tool for police forces. What it changed for CSIS was put another tool at our disposal in terms of information and the sharing of that information with police forces like the RCMP, so they can fulfill their mandate, so they can determine whether to conduct an investigation, whether it meets the threshold. It gives us an additional avenue to inform police forces when we believe doing so is warranted.
Senator Dallaire: That puts you in even closer contact with common tactical activities. Does CSIS want to keep working that way, or do you still want to maintain a separation between what they do on the ground on their end and what you do?
Mr. Coulombe: We still want to maintain a separation. CSIS is not a police force; we are not in the business of gathering evidence to bring people before the courts. That is not what we do. So we have to respect the line that separates our investigations from police investigations.
I have been directly involved with the RCMP for over 28 years. I began my career with the RCMP and I helped develop mechanisms to facilitate discussion and information sharing, all while maintaining that separation between security intelligence investigations and criminal investigations that will likely lead to criminal court.
Senator Dallaire: Mr. Forster, you say that you do not investigate or seek information on Canadian citizens. Would those in uniform, the military, as an example, would they be fair game for your work with regard to their employment overseas?
Mr. Forster: In terms of targeting them for collection of intelligence about them, they are Canadian. It doesn't matter if they are in the military or not. We can't target the communications of a Canadian anywhere in the world.
We do work very closely with the Canadian Armed Forces in terms of SIGINT, particularly in support of military missions and operations. Again, it was before my time as chief, but certainly the relationship and the joint operations between SIGINT and the military in Afghanistan was extremely close and extremely invaluable in protecting the lives of our soldiers.
Senator Dallaire: You were tasked.
Mr. Forster: We were very much part of the mission to help them gain tactical intelligence in Afghanistan.
Senator Segal: I'd like to come back, Mr. Coulombe, to the issue of SIRC. You were very forthcoming about how the many reports of SIRC over the years have strengthened the service and contributed, in your view, to improvement in a host of constructive areas.
As I understand SIRC's mandate, it is retrospective. It looks back at what may have happened in the previous year. It only has a mandate with respect to CSIS. It doesn't have a mandate for military intelligence or ITAC or any of those other organizations or your colleague's organization. It has a mandate to pursue any complaints which may come up where they will ask specific questions. Your frankness about the open access they have is very constructive and helpful.
Your colleagues who do the same work that you do in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Israel have the ability to go before an oversight committee and share with them not just things about the past but about the challenges they're facing now, the issues they have with respect to resources and some of the technological issues that are coming at them. They're in a position to seek advice or clarification or test various things with legislators on a non-partisan basis in camera.
Am I to conclude from your testimony that you would not find that sort of engagement of any particular value, that it would not enhance the ability to do your job as well as I know you want to do it, when your colleagues in other NATO and allied countries do have that capacity?
Mr. Coulombe: I'm not saying it would not enhance. It comes with its own challenges, and if you do talk to our foreign partners, they will say so.
Again, like John mentioned, being the body that is being reviewed, I don't really think I'm in a position to comment in terms of what type of review or oversight mechanism should be put in place. The one certainty, whatever Parliament decides to do, we will, like we've done for the last 30 years with SIRC, fully cooperate with whatever mechanism is put in place.
Senator Segal: I wanted to come back to make sure I understood what your response was on the metadata question. I think I had implied in my question that having done the modelling, having learned what you had to learn from the exercise, the actual data itself would be destroyed. I think your answer — because it did not contain, in your view, any private information about individuals — was that it would be retained because it is a planning instrument to help with the design of other models as national security requirements may suggest are necessary for CSEC. I wanted to be sure that I understood that that was, in fact, your response.
Mr. Forster: I don't want to leave the impression that there aren't privacy interests related to metadata. There can be. There can be information in metadata that, while not a private communication as defined in law, there are privacy interests. So when we collect metadata, we do have to manage those privacy interests. We have in our directive a regime that we can only retain it for so long and then it must be destroyed if it has not already been so. In many cases, it may just be overwritten because we need the space for it.
Senator Segal: Can I conclude, then, that as the nature of the exercise was mandated by a directive from a minister of the Crown, which is itself secret, you are not able to share with us what will happen with that data because it's a matter lawfully between yourself and the minister?
Mr. Forster: Right. Just to be clear, the exercise per se was not approved by the minister. The policies and the frameworks and how we use metadata are certainly approved, and my accountability to report to him is done.
The metadata only has limited shelf life which, for security reasons, I can't talk about. Then you would know how long I would be keeping things.
Senator Segal: I understand.
Mr. Forster: But I can assure you that in that ministerial directive there is a definite shelf life, and the data is destroyed at that time, if not before.
Senator Mitchell: There are at least two fundamental differences in the way that you are structured. Mr. Forster, you report directly to the minister, making you de facto of the deputy minister level, it would seem to me.
Mr. Coulombe, you report to a deputy minister, making you not at that level.
Mr. Forster, your review is by a commissioner; and, Mr. Coulombe, your review is by a board.
Why the differences? In particular, which is better: a board or a commissioner?
Mr. Coulombe: The first thing I'd like to clarify is that the director of the service — we are separate employers, and I report to the minister. I do not report through the Deputy Minister of Public Safety. I report directly to the minister.
Why the differences? I couldn't explain it.
Is it better with SIRC or the office of the commissioner? I can only talk about our own structure, and like I've said, I think SIRC has demonstrated through the years that it is a robust review mechanism for CSIS, but I would be ill-placed to start comparing SIRC versus the office of the commissioner.
Mr. Forster: Which is better? I'm not knowledgeable enough about SIRC and how it operates to be able to compare the two. I think the commissioner model is useful in our organization for a couple of reasons.
There are complex legal issues, as you've seen in the discussion today, so having a retired judge is very important. They have a legal understanding and a legal acumen that they can use, because legality is an important issue for us. So they do that.
Again, the staff of the commissioner — it's a very complex world. There is a lot of technology. Our world is very complex. The commissioner's office provides that continuity. They build up a competence and an expertise in the matters in which they have to review and advise the minister.
It's hard for me to compare the two. I probably don't know enough about SIRC.
Senator Mitchell: I appreciate that.
To further the initiative that has come up earlier, there is fundamental difference between review and oversight. One is retroactive; one is proactive, one might argue. In fact, oversight has some elements of governance, not just evaluating after the fact. Part of that element of governance would be policy input.
I alluded to it earlier, but I'd like to clarify the sense that really and truly, policy right now is essentially, in a structured way, set by cabinet, dispersed, as Mr. Rigby was talking about, amongst the various departments and packaged to act; but there is no other official, formal manner in which policy input and advice is given to your two organizations outside of the government structure. That is the government as in the Conservative government structure and the cabinet and the bureaucracy. There isn't any other independent body or parliamentary oversight body of any kind that would provide that.
Mr. Forster: Outside government?
Senator Mitchell: Or within Parliament, outside of the government itself.
Mr. Forster: That's correct.
Senator Nolin: Mr. Forster, I want to go back to this question of metadata.
In July last year, Ms. Cavoukian, the information and privacy commissioner of Ontario, after listening to the content of the data collected through this means, including the times of the communications, the length of the communications, the platform used, the addresses, the email addresses, the IP addresses and the locations, she said, and I want you to comment on her affirmation:
Government surveillance programs, however, gather and analyze our metadata for different purposes. Armed with this data, the state has the power to instantaneously create a detailed digital profile of the life of anyone swept up in such a massive data seizure. Once this data is compiled and examined, detailed pictures of individuals begin to emerge. The data can reveal your political or religious affiliations, as well as your personal and intimate relationships.
The truth is that collecting metadata can actually be more revealing than assessing the content of our communications.
What's your opinion on such an affirmation by someone who is responsible for looking after privacy in Ontario?
Mr. Forster: Metadata, in terms of a foreign signals intelligence agency, is pretty essential. We wouldn't be able to find or locate our foreign targets without it. It also helps us to make sure that we are not targeting Canadian private communications.
Even though the law doesn't recognize it as a private communication, there is a strong privacy interest in metadata. As we are on the global Internet collecting metadata for finding our foreign targets, we still have a privacy interest; we still have to protect and ensure the privacy of that information. We would not be using metadata to build profiles of Canadians and their religious affinity and their political —
Senator Nolin: You could, but you are not doing it.
Mr. Forster: We would be in violation of the law to do it, one. Two, we have no interest in doing that. Our focus is to find foreign targets overseas. If we started to try to do that, I can tell you that there would be people all over our organization phoning up the commissioner and saying, "Whoa, whoa."
Our role with metadata, again, is to understand networks that help us quickly find what it is we are looking for in the sea of communications. We don't use it for that purpose at all. It would be in violation of the law. The commissioner would certainly report that, or our own employees would report that.
Senator Nolin: Is that the reason why the commissioner is so adamant and still coming back to the issue of metadata regularly?
Mr. Forster: First and foremost, the commissioner who has the legislative responsibility to come in and look at our operations to make those assurances to you is the CSEC commissioner. At the same time, the federal Privacy Commissioner has an interest and a role here. Actually, we will be having her office in later this month to provide a briefing and explain to her these programs and how we protect privacy measures there.
Senator Nolin: We may invite her to give us some enlightenment.
Senator Segal: When Mr. Rigby appeared before us, he said, I think in jest, that he hasn't slept well for three years because of some of the issues of which he would be aware in the performance of his duties.
An Hon. Senator: He didn't say even "well."
Senator Segal: He didn't say "well"; there was no adjective.
I understand the constraints both of our witnesses face in terms of how frank they can be with a committee that doesn't have security clearance, but could I ask both of our witnesses to sum up those things, or one or two serious matters that keep them awake at night, about which they worry in the discharge of their primary duty, to protect the national security of Canadians?
Mr. Coulombe: I'll start by saying that Mr. Rigby is lucky, because in my case it's 27 years.
In terms of things that keep me awake at night, I talked in my opening remarks about the phenomenon that we call "foreign fighters." This is not just in Canada. When I travel and meet with my colleagues in Europe and elsewhere, it is the number one concern and the number one priority. That would certainly be at the top of my list: radicalization of young Canadians; and then either planning to do something here, planning from here to do something elsewhere, or travelling overseas to be involved in threat-related activities.
There is one thing I want to make clear. The label "foreign fighters" is being used to describe this. I mentioned in my opening remarks that at this time we are aware of about 130 Canadians. It's misleading to say "foreign fighters" because, again, some of them could be involved in fundraising or logistical support. It is not 130 Canadians out there fighting in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan or elsewhere. That's an important distinction. But that would definitely be at the top of my list at this time.
Mr. Forster: I've only not been sleeping for two years, since I was appointed.
Two things are at the top of our list that we're preoccupied with. One is certainly cyber-threats. This is a rapidly growing area that you are seeing: nation states, activists and criminals, in terms of how they use the Internet, hide in the Internet and exploit information from the Internet. It's a challenge that you can't say, "Right, we've done that, fixed that." The complexity and the evolution of the capabilities, not just to use it to seek information, but others are using it for disruption purposes. You saw last year that there were cyber-threats or attacks from Iran on the U.S. financial sector, for example, on their websites.
The second biggest area of concern for us, as Michel would say, would be in the field of terrorism. It's a very diffuse threat, very difficult to find, and has life-and-death consequences.
Senator Segal: When Bill S-7 was passed — it originated in the Senate — Justice Department officials said to us that one of the values of criminalizing anybody's activities that might be deemed criminal here, should they wish to do them elsewhere in support of a terrorist organization, whether it's fundraising or any of those, was that the police and criminal intelligence had the capacity to pursue conspiracy; i.e., people who are planning to go about those sorts of activities.
Without getting into specifics, can you share with the committee your view as to whether, from the point of view of foreign signals monitoring and from the point of view of our own intelligence on the ground in Canada since the passage of that bill, you are comfortable with the progress in developing the capacity to do that analysis so as to facilitate lawful disruption, to keep bad things from happening before they happen? We always would like more progress, faster — I understand that — but by and large, within the context of the realities we face, is the progress being made, from your perspective, sufficient and constructive?
Mr. Coulombe: I certainly wouldn't want to speak for the RCMP on this. I think that question would probably be better addressed by them.
That said, there has certainly been progress — and I go back to Senator Dallaire's question earlier regarding Bill S-7, in terms of the dialogue and exchange of information between the service and, if you like, the operationalization of this bill. In terms of progress, collecting evidence and bringing somebody to court in regard to Bill S-7, again, that is better for the police force to address. It's out of my field.
Mr. Forster: I don't have a lot to add. I would make one point in terms of Canadian individuals who go overseas to train and fight. Even if they're a person of interest, they're still a Canadian. They may be in Syria. I'm not going to target them for intelligence collection. It would still require Michel to go to court, to get a warrant, and then I may assist him in that effort. But even as a Canadian in a foreign country, it's not something within my mandate.
Senator White: Thanks again for being here. I was always told to save the praise until the end. I've travelled to other countries, and they continuously talk about the success Canada has had in disrupting, dismantling and combating terrorism in our country, in particular. I think a lot of that has to do with organizations such as yours.
You did make a comment, Mr. Coulombe, in relation to radicalization. We know your folks aren't the ones with their feet on the ground in the communities where radicalization typically occurs, yet we have been successful in the Toronto 18 and other cases, for example. What activity does your organization take with those local organizations to ensure that the radicalization is combatted and that there is a fight on the ground to try and reverse or disrupt cases like the Toronto 18?
Mr. Coulombe: I mentioned earlier that we are a member of the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security. That is certainly a venue for the service to be at the table and discuss those issues with community leaders. Through our regional offices we also maintain a relationship with a number of those leaders in talking about those issues.
It is also important to understand that the issue of radicalization is not one that will be solved uniquely by intelligence services or law enforcement. It is at all levels of the community and it will need the involvement of everyone on this file. We play a role, but we are not the overall solution to this. We certainly make many efforts in terms of understanding the phenomenon. We do a lot of studies ourselves, with partners and with academia involved, trying to understand and then trying to counter this, but we do maintain a cross-country liaison at different levels.
Senator White: That was a great response.
Do you feel there needs to be a standardization put in force for all police agencies in Canada that will require everyone to be at a similar or like level of readiness when it comes to receiving information, unlike there is today with 180 organizations?
Mr. Coulombe: It would definitely be useful. As you well know, we are part of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and through that we try, as much as possible, to inform. Like you have mentioned, we are not necessarily the boots on the ground. We are limited and we certainly rely on front-line police officers to bring any threat-related activities to our attention through dialogue with different police forces.
When I was responsible for the regional office in Montreal, the relationship between the RCMP in "C" Division, Sûreté du Québec and Montreal police was extremely important. It is something we cultivate and work for, because it is crucial in order for us to fulfill our mandate.
The Chair: Gentlemen, thank you very much for appearing here today. This is truly, in part, parliamentary accountability at its best, I believe. I think you were very forthright and we look forward to having you again in the future. It's been informative.
I would like to welcome to our committee Ms. Jill Sinclair, Assistant Deputy Minister (Policy) from the Department of National Defence. Ms. Sinclair is a seasoned professional in our government.
We are pleased to have you here. I understand that you have an opening statement. Please proceed.
Jill Sinclair, Assistant Deputy Minister (Policy), National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces: Mr. Chair, honourable senators and committee members, good evening. My name is Jill Sinclair, and I am happy to appear before you today to discuss defence policy, specifically as it relates to Canada’s Arctic sovereignty and security.
I understand that you heard from my colleague Major-General Chris Coates in December on Canadian Armed Forces operations and activities in the north. I will be focusing on the strategic orientation of the department’s objectives in the north and how we are working within a whole-of-government effort to exercise our sovereignty and to ensure we are ready for the opportunities and challenges the future holds for Canada’s Arctic.
As you know, Canada's Arctic region is vast — 40 per cent of our land mass. Unlike some of our Arctic neighbours, only a small percentage of our population, about 0.3 per cent, reside in the Arctic. This is important to note in considering the growing interest in natural resources, tourism, shipping routes and scientific exploration.
As these activities increase, so too will the challenges, both new and long-standing, to safety and security in the North — challenges such as natural disasters, environmental pollution, search and rescue incidents, illegal migration, and smuggling.
National Defence and the Canadian Forces play and will continue to play an important role to help ensure that Canada is poised to respond to these challenges and exercise our sovereignty. In this regard, the department's policy is grounded in a well-established framework.
Canada's Northern Strategy, to which the government reaffirmed its commitment in the last Speech from the Throne, lays out the government's vision for the North and is built upon the pillars of sovereignty, social and economic development, environmental heritage, and improved northern governance.
While National Defence supports all these four pillars, it contributes primarily to the sovereignty pillar by ensuring the ability of the Canadian Armed Forces to operate effectively in this remote and austere environment, and by supporting the work of other federal, provincial/territorial and municipal authorities, and working with the communities that live in the North.
The Canada First Defence Strategy puts forward clear roles and missions for the Canadian Armed Forces in protecting Canada and Canadians. In particular, it calls on our military to have the capability to exercise control over and defend Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic.
To achieve this mission and, in doing so, to deliver excellence at home, we are investing in personnel, training, equipment and infrastructure initiatives such as the Arctic offshore patrol ships; a berthing and refueling facility in Nanisivik; expansion and modernization of the Canadian Rangers; operations up in the North — Operation NANOOK and other northern sovereignty exercises — satellite-based communications and surveillance systems; and the Canadian Armed Forces Training Centre in Resolute, to name but a few. I know General Coates mentioned many of these, too.
The complexity of Arctic challenges necessitates close bilateral and multilateral cooperation. The Arctic requires and rewards collaboration, not confrontation. Canada's Arctic foreign policy guides our international efforts in the region, and working with the Department of Foreign Affairs, National Defence plays a key role in implementing this foreign policy through strategic dialogue with allies and regional partners, and by hosting and participating in international exercises.
In 2011, under the auspices of the Arctic Council, National Defence led Canada's negotiation of the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement amongst all eight Arctic nations. This landmark agreement provides opportunities to exchange information and best practices, to foster cooperation, and seeks to improve search and rescue in the Arctic overall.
In 2012, Canada initiated the Northern Chiefs of Defence meeting series to help facilitate communication and build cooperation and confidence amongst Arctic nations at the highest military levels. These initiatives help to keep the Arctic a low-risk, low-tension region and one where there is no military threat for the foreseeable future.
As neighbours with a shared Arctic coastline, we continue to work closely with the U.S., our closest ally and friend, to defend North America, including through NORAD, through the Tri-Command Framework for Arctic Cooperation, which facilitates cooperation between our military commands in the Arctic, and through the combined surveillance of our northern air and maritime approaches. Canada and the U.S. have been working together to protect our common northern airspace and approaches through NORAD since 1958.
As you can see, Canada’s approach to Arctic sovereignty and security is built upon a solid foundation of frameworks underpinned by whole-of-government collaboration, strategic investment and international cooperation.
Thank you for your time and attention. It would be my pleasure to answer any questions you may have.
I kept my comments brief so we could have more time for discussion.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Sinclair.
Senator Dallaire: In 1980, while on exchange at the U.S. Marine Corps staff college, I wrote a master's paper called "Circumpolar Security." I have a number of points and will ask two questions. Then I hope there will be a second round.
These first questions may sound a bit tactical. There was supposed to be a large-scale exercise planned in March of about 1,200 troops in the North that has been cancelled. As you articulate the Canada First Defence Strategy and the desire to put a presence in the North and improve capacity, we are also seeing projects being moved to the right and downscaled. We are seeing initiatives of things like the exercises of more use of those reservists to go up into the North, delays in getting equipment in there and finishing some of the projects. There is a very strong feeling that we are going at it half-hearted and that it is not really a dynamic, up-front desire to take over the North.
Can you give me some sort of a warm or fuzzy feeling that we actually want to do that, or are we just filling in — I would even articulate — political ambitions versus really taking our North seriously?
Ms. Sinclair: I hope I can give you a warm and fuzzy feeling.
If you look at the increase in activity, certainly over the last five, six and seven years, in terms of the exercise schedules, Op NANOOK — everyone is familiar with that — was in the summertime. There are three major operations that usually take place up in the high Arctic. The intent to exercise on a regular basis, the intent to build infrastructure that enables us to have mobility up in the North — as you know, senator, it's vast, austere and very hard to resupply. Nanisivik is extremely important in terms of a high North berthing facility.
The Canadian Forces Training Centre at Resolute Bay is at 72 degrees north. We do this shared with NRCan, so it is both scientific but also a place where we can do cold weather and winter warfare training. The increase in the number of Rangers up to just over 5,000 now, the numbers of patrols, and then the procurement of the Arctic offshore patrol ship are all practical, strong demonstrations that there is a commitment to be more present, more active and more capable in the North.
Senator Dallaire: We can get into nuts and bolts about more Rangers and about the equipment they have, but they are still at 17 days a year. We can talk about the projects. Irving is supposed to be building the ships, but there is no steel being cut yet; they are just punching paper. We don't have the same number of ships anticipated. The exercises are in the summertime and not in the wintertime where the true challenges exist.
As you indicated, we are looking at more comprehensive approaches to our strategy in the North — meaning not National Defence — and with all the other agencies there. You remember Attawapiskat and the catastrophic failure there. I know for a fact that we could have had Hercules aircraft flown in there in 48 hours and we could have rebuilt half the town in pretty fast order. Why not bring something like a northern corps of engineers that employs military but also locals to build capacity and have that entity go across the North and improve the infrastructure of communities? That will improve their ability to be more participatory in the development of the North and will give extraordinary skills to the military to be able to operate in that area. Why not create something like that, which has that whole-of-government or interagency capability?
Ms. Sinclair: I can't comment specifically on that idea, Senator Dallaire, as you probably know.
You used the words "comprehensive approach." I think the whole key when looking at National Defence or the role of the Canadian Armed Forces is to see us as but one instrument in an inventory of the government's approaches and capabilities to taking care of our North. We are a northern country, so that is why you see, in the interdepartmental community, there are more than a dozen departments that have active roles in the North. It is the pooling together of all of these capabilities that enables the development and projection into the North. It's not a military responsibility above all, although we have unique assets, expertise and capability to be able to get that far-northern reach. You have to look at it in the comprehensive way that you started to outline.
The other thing I would say about infrastructure is in the preparation for major exercises that the Canadian Forces do, there is extensive engagement with the communities. If you look at Joint Task Force North that is based in Yellowknife and the work with the Rangers, the dialogue and relationship between the Canadian Forces and the communities is extraordinary. In those instances where something can be done that would be helped by the presence of the Canadian Forces, which would support the community in a way that is sustainable and does not just build something and then leave, all of that work is taken into consideration. It is a factor, but again it is the local governments, communities, territories and the provinces that really have the responsibility there. We can enable and support, but we don't lead.
The Chair: To concur with that, coming from the Yukon, the Government of the Yukon, the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Government of Nunavut have those direct responsibilities. The military can help, but it should be in partnership with those quasi-provincial jurisdictions. Otherwise, you will have a situation where Big Brother from Ottawa will come to solve your problems and, quite frankly, I don't want that again.
Senator Nolin: Good evening, Ms. Sinclair. It is a pleasure to have you with us once again.
As you know, the Vancouver shipyard has contracted many ships. I would like to understand why the Diefenbaker icebreaker was postponed. What is the rationale behind the decision of the government?
Ms. Sinclair: Senator, I am afraid that you are into an area that I don't have the details on. This is our Materiel, Public Works and other folks.
Senator Nolin: Let's turn to another policy question, our relations with the Russians. As you know, they want to build their own antenna system, their own global positioning system, or GPS. Have we been asked by the Russians to host some of those relay stations? We know the Americans have a concern. Have the Russians asked us to do that?
Ms. Sinclair: Not that I am aware of, senator.
Senator Nolin: You are not aware of that?
Ms. Sinclair: No. I'm not aware that we have been asked.
Senator Nolin: Are you familiar with that relationship with the Americans, the French and the Russians on those systems, their position? Do you have any knowledge of that?
Ms. Sinclair: No, just at the highest level, senator.
Senator Day: One of my two questions was going to be about the John Diefenbaker icebreaker. My understanding is that even though it will not be constructed now until after the two joint support ships, the Vancouver yard is just not big enough to do all of this activity at once, so we are looking at 10 years and the price has already doubled. That is one of the ones we were counting on. It is a big polar icebreaker. The alternative icebreakers are the ones being built by the Irving shipyard. And the Arctic offshore patrol ships are not icebreakers and will only to be able to operate with new ice for a short period of time. How will we be able to express our sovereignty in the North if we don't have any ships that can operate in the North?
Ms. Sinclair: The government's intent is to improve that capability, absolutely. The sequencing issue that you have mentioned is, I understand, one of the factors because there is only a certain amount of capacity. The Canadian Coast Guard already patrols Arctic waters, so it’s not as if there isn’t a presence.
In terms of challenges in the Arctic, we have increased presence and activity much more so in the summertime than the winter, for obvious reasons. There are a variety of ways of doing this. We have overflights from the CP-140s, the presence of the Rangers on the ground, and we do the exercises of sovereignty. We have satellite capability. There are multiple ways of putting these systems together so that you are able to exercise and protect sovereignty.
At the end of the day, having the military presence is only one aspect of that. The communities that live in the North, that are of the North, are the ultimate expression of sovereignty and the interest in building the economic and social infrastructure there. It is a much broader piece than just the military instruments of sovereignty.
Senator Day: My second question is in relation to sovereignty and security challenges that might be developing. I don't know if you heard our earlier session with CSIS where we discussed a recommendation by SIRC, the oversight body for CSIS. They indicated that there should be increased CSIS activity in the North. Is DND working with CSIS in relation to activity in the North? Do you see a growing security problem in the North?
Ms. Sinclair: In terms of the questions about what CSIS is doing, I hope that you asked those questions of them when they were at the table earlier.
Senator Day: I did; they told me to ask you.
Ms. Sinclair: Really? I will take that up with them.
In terms of concerns in the North, to be clear, we don't see any military threat to the North at the moment. The issues in the North are much more on the public safety and security side of things. It is health, infrastructure and environmental spills. It is about those types of issues and helping the communities up north remain resilient.
In that sense, the instruments of that resilience are not necessarily military ones and intelligence ones at the get-go.
In terms of having awareness of what is going on in the Arctic, that is where satellites and presence come into play. There is no substitute for that. But we don't see any particular immediate military threat in the more traditional sense of security up in the North.
Senator Wells: Thank you, Ms. Sinclair, for appearing here today.
I want to follow up on that line of thought because we know the Russians were partnering with them on a number of initiatives. They are no longer an overt military threat, and perhaps no longer a military threat. In the 56 years since NORAD was created, things have changed in the North.
Because Russia has multiple deep-water ports, they are building an impressive fleet of icebreakers. I look at the current process of politically delineating the North — not just our North, but all the North — and all countries that are signatories to the settlement protocol.
I go back to the comment you made two or three minutes ago that one of things you are looking at is the health of the communities. That surely can't be a Department of National Defence responsibility. What's our greatest threat in the North from a Department of National Defence point of view?
Ms. Sinclair: The greatest threat in the North at the moment, absent that extant military threat — and I would assert we don't see one at the moment — is making sure that we are positioned to support other government departments and territorial and provincial governments in dealing with those more traditional public safety concerns. So it's environmental spills, and it's coming in to support those other government departments. It's also that search and rescue piece when it comes to the air part of search and rescue. As you know, search and rescue is an area of shared jurisdiction amongst a number of players.
When I talk about threats to the North at the moment, I usually talk in the terms of helpless and hapless. There are people who think the ice is melted and it's easy to go through. They'll get into trouble; they'll need rescuing. They may go up there with the wrong sorts of ships. The hulls might not be reinforced; there might be environmental spills and things. That's the real role at the moment, in addition to doing the sovereignty projection, which we have been doing for decades, to ensure we have a bit of a sense of what's going on in our North.
Senator Mitchell: Recently, when Canada made its presentation regarding its claim to the UN for our region in the North — it seemed to be at the last minute, or perhaps not, but certainly not well enough researched, at their own admission — the government did push out its claim to the North Pole. That's significant. Have you factored any of that into your military activities to establish utilization that far north?
Ms. Sinclair: No, not at the moment. The issue of that claim through the UN, the Law of the Sea Convention, is being managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. In terms of projecting into the North, we'll wait for the outcome of that process to see what's Canadian and what isn't.
Of course, we have our Canadian Forces station at Alert, which is about 700 kilometres or so south of the North Pole, so it's very, very high north. We already operate there. We have the highest northern operating military station in the world.
We go out, do our sovereignty patrols and we exercise that far north. We are prepared for whatever jurisdictional outcome there is, and whatever the government asks us to do once this has been settled through diplomatic means.
Senator Mitchell: When this committee made a report in 2011, Sovereignty & Security in Canadian's Arctic, which you are undoubtedly aware of, one of our recommendations concerned the Canadian Rangers and expanding their role in marine surveillance and activities and the possibility that some of them would be given boats of a certain sort. Has any thought been given to expanding the role of the Rangers in that way?
Ms. Sinclair: I think this question came up with General Coates, who was here, too. The focus at the moment is expanding the number of Rangers. These are our eyes and ears on the ground. We're upwards of just over 5,000 now. It's a bit difficult to recruit in the sense that there are not that many people up there. But they are an extraordinary asset. They might not do it as formally as you mentioned in your report, senator, but the Rangers are there, on the ground, and bring all their assets to bear, whether it's Ski-Doos or small boats or other things. So they don't do it in quite the systematic fashion you are talking about, but they do provide for surveillance and a presence, including in the maritime area.
Senator Dagenais: Thank you very much, Ms. Sinclair. We know that the Arctic subsoil is highly coveted and that demarcating areas and protecting them is important.
First, I would like to know what the main issues are as far as that protection goes. Second, I would like to hear your thoughts on surveillance and enforcing the act in terms of the increase in Arctic activities. And lastly, I would also like to hear your thoughts on what should be done at the Resolute Bay training base.
Ms. Sinclair: Again, I'm sorry that I'm not going to be able to answer as fully as you would like, only because it's a little bit out of my area. The law enforcement piece is the RCMP and the public safety ministry.
In terms of law enforcement and oversight, maybe from a defence perspective, I can say it's really about surveillance and having a sense of what's coming in in the Arctic domain and in our maritime domain in the high North.
There is no substitute for satellite technology. As you know, we have increased our ability and with RADARSAT-2 and with the RADARSAT Constellation mission, which will come on line in a few years. It takes a while to get things going in space. It will give us a pass over the high Arctic several times a day and give us visibility to that part of the North that simply is not possible now. There is no substitute for knowing what's going on.
The other part of that, frankly, is working with our partners internationally, because with those approaches, people have to come from somewhere. So it is having partnerships, which we have for non-military reasons with our Arctic Council partners. There is not a military role to the Arctic Council, but we share information through the Northern Chiefs of Defence table, which Canada established a few years ago, and we compare notes. In that setting, that's where militaries talk about how they can better support their public safety agencies, whether it is local or territorial police or other people.
You also asked a question about the training centre. It opened in August 2013. It can provide for up to 140 personnel to be operating there. It will provide a research station for national research. In that sense, it will give us an ability, all year round, to do cold weather, high Arctic training. I think it will significantly increase our capability and capacity, but, again, you might want to ask the head of the army for more detail on that.
Senator White: I know from reporting that DND's recruiting targets were not met last year. In particular, in relation to visible minorities and Aboriginals, the targets were well below what were anticipated in 2010. How has the success been in recruiting in the northern territories and, in particular, from Aboriginal communities?
Ms. Sinclair: There is the northern Ranger program, and we also have a cadet program up north, which is very successful. It is tough to recruit. We have made it over 5,000 Rangers, which is not insignificant, given that the population base is not that great. Again, I am straying into the territory of those who actually live in the neighbourhood, but there is tremendous enthusiasm amongst the local communities to be part of this sovereignty mission to be able to serve Canada in this way. So I think within the limits of the demographics up North and in the high Arctic, we are doing very well in terms of the Ranger program.
Senator White: And for entry within the regular force full time?
Ms. Sinclair: I am sorry. I don't have those numbers, but I can revert and get something from the chief of military personnel to get you those details, because I know we have the statistics.
The Chair: I would like to refer to your comments in respect to satellites and the dependency of the North on satellites going forward. Could you update us in respect to where National Defence is in respect to the progress on the possibility of what is termed as the Polarsat satellite for the North? Do you have any information on that?
Ms. Sinclair: In terms of Polarsat, we have the Polar Epsilon program, which is looking at maritime approaches and operations. That's been in effect since February 2012, I believe. The RADARSAT Constellation mission is being launched in 2018. We also have the Northern Watch program, which is a technology demonstration project that has been highly effective, so these together are going to give us a new capability that simply doesn't exist now. Actually, if we talk to some of our other northern partners, it will be a capability that no other northern countries have at the moment.
The Chair: I want to go into one other area, the question of the possible use of unmanned aerial vehicles — drones — to patrol the Arctic and for search and rescue. Are you giving that consideration because technology has changed dramatically there in the last number of years?
Ms. Sinclair: I think we give everything consideration to see whether it will be able to operate in that austere and demanding environment. There is no question that the use of unmanned aerial vehicles is increasing for all sorts of purposes. As we look at how you get — I mentioned the terminology "a system of systems" whereby you are not just dependent on one, because, if one system fails, then you have nothing else. How do you put those together? What's actually going to work? What's most cost effective? What can work in the vastness of our Arctic? Again, with the exception of Russia, the other Arctic countries are a little bit smaller in terms of territory, but things like UAVs are being looked at.
Senator Dallaire: The desire to make the Arctic very much part of Canada, being a Nordic country, requires a lot of coordination with the territories, but I'm quite concerned about coordination of all of the different federal government departments, Certainly, north of 60, there's sort of every Tom, Dick and Harry up there, and they seem to all have the same or similar authorities. I'm not sure whether we would want Indian Affairs to be the lead, or whoever, in that area.
This, to me, is a disjointed entity. I haven't seen us trying to really structure a body politic of the federal government to take on the North and to marry it up with us. That is reinforced by our inability to put equipment up there to help.
As an example, why don't we buy a Russian icebreaker? We buy jet aircraft from the Americans for humongous amounts. Why not buy an icebreaker? We know we can't build it. We know we don't have the time to build it; it will take another 20 years. So why not buy one of them and get some equipment up there and get some serious assets to move into that area, knowing full well that, as you mentioned, the Coast Guard is there? The Coast Guard is rusting out, and it's going to have a hard time sustaining any operations up there in the years to come. It's that sense that it's not convincing, and I'm wondering how you, as one of the primary ministries, see that.
Ms. Sinclair: Quickly, because I know that there's not a lot of time, there are two questions that you asked, Senator Dallaire. The first one was on coordination and whether there is more of a focal point or whether we are working in an ad hoc way.
There is no question that there are many government departments, both at the federal and other levels of government, engaged in the North. As I said, there are about 12 to 13 federal government departments. I can assure you that the coordination is actually very good. There are a number of places where people come together on a regular basis to make sure that everybody is acting within their mandate. You were a little bit concerned about whether there was confusion or everybody tripping over one another. I don't think so. I've never seen a place or a region where the coordination is better and where people respect each other's mandates and that complementarity, where we can actually converge in meeting and working together to deal with common problems. I will not tell you that an interdepartmental committee solves every problem because that would be awfully bureaucratic, but I have to say that it is actually quite functional in this area.
At the macro level, whether it is environmental programs, social programs, health programs, public safety and security programs, food programs or whatever, that coordination is very good. Things can always be done to improve it, obviously.
At the level of dealing with emergency management, there is something called the Arctic Security Working Group, which DND, the Canadian Forces, and Public Safety, up in the North, chair. They have meetings on a monthly basis, and that's where they reach out to the local communities and also deal with the local governments. Recognizing the vastness, the challenges and the need to not waste resources and leave people in peril in any way, there is an assiduous effort to make sure that this coordination actually works.
With regard to buying a Russian icebreaker off the shelf, I really can't go into that one. In terms of your question, I think the real point is that the government is making, and has articulated over the last number of years, a consistent commitment to investing in and purchasing additional equipment in order to have the presence and the capability needed up North.
Senator Wells: My question is regarding — you mentioned in response to my earlier question — search and rescue response times.
One of the recommendations in our March 2011interim report was that the government, in order to reduce SAR response times in the Arctic, position Canadian Forces SAR assets at a central location in the North so that there is always an aircraft on standby. I recognize that a central location might not necessarily be where a search and rescue team would be needed, but what is being done to reduce response times? What is the wheels-up time now, and what is being done to either reduce that or to meet that if it's not being met now?
Ms. Sinclair: I can't answer in detail about wheels-up times and things like that. I would want to have somebody from our Canada Command to come and answer those questions.
What I can tell you is that our response times are very good. Finding a single place in the massive space of the Arctic where you could actually have that reach is not really practical. The Canadian Forces have optimized their presence in order to be able to meet the requests for SAR. My understanding and our experience is that, in terms of the response times, we meet them or are actually lower.
As you know, there are many search and rescue incidents a year, but in terms of the number that occur in the high Arctic, they are more or less constant. The response times of the Canadian Forces have met the needs as required.
Senator Day: You mentioned Alert and Canadian communications monitoring. There are other communities in the North, and do they complement one another or is each doing its own thing?
The other one is U.S. Air Force Base Thule, and the other is the Danish base called Station Nord. Is there a cooperative effort going on here?
Ms. Sinclair: Senator, there's a great deal of cooperation between and amongst those, especially our allies. You have mentioned three NATO allies who are looking out for the same issues — domain awareness, tracking ships, things like that.
I don't know specifically, senator, what Canadian Forces Station Alert shares with its partners, but I can tell you that through the Arctic Security Forces Round Table, which brings together about a dozen of the militaries interested in the high North, through the northern chiefs of defence setting, but also just through the ongoing contact — as you know Thule and Alert are not far away from each other — there is constant cooperation and communication. But I can't tell you specifically whether those three actually communicate and cooperate with one another.
Senator Day: Could you find out for us and let us know?
Ms. Sinclair: Yes, let me take that as notice.
The Chair: I would like to thank our witnesses for being here this evening. It's been a long day for the committee. We appreciate your answers and are looking forward to having you return to our committee at a future date as we explore other issues.
You may be aware that we are going to be commencing a study of ballistic missile defence in North America. We will look for representations from the Department of National Defence at that time. I would like to thank you very much, and you are excused.
Ms. Sinclair: Thank you.
The Chair: Colleagues, we have a number of issues that the steering committee would like to discuss with the committee, and we would like to discuss that in camera. We will then, in all likelihood, have to come back into a public committee because there are some decisions that we will have to take.
Could I ask everyone to clear the room except for the senators and staff? Thank you.
(The committee continued in camera.)
(The committee resumed in public.)
The Chair: Before us we have a proposed budget to take to Internal Economy for the purpose of approval in respect of a visit to Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.A., to view all the aspects of ballistic missile defence. Obviously, it will play a very important part for us from the point of the view of the study that we are going to undertake.
If there is agreement around the table, could I entertain a motion to approve the budget?
Senator Nolin: So moved.
Senator Dallaire: The second dimension of that is the policy framework, which calls for a visit to Washington, D.C., but that is in the next fiscal year, so we don't have to worry about it at this time. I second the motion to approve this budget.
The Chair: It is moved by Senator Nolin, seconded by Senator Dallaire.
The Chair: Is anyone opposed? If not, carried.
(The committee adjourned.)